Four con artists claiming to be University of Richmond athletes got away with swindling residents of Richmond and Henrico County, officials from the University Police said.
The scammers told Glen Allen residents that they were raising money through the athletic department for charitable causes, including books for needy children and a children's hospital.
The scam artists went door-to-door asking for donations and used neighborhood cues, such as a university flag, to get a conversation going with their victim, said Howard B. "Buddy" Norton, interim chief of police.
"They'll say, 'We know somebody,' or, 'We live near so-and-so,'" Norton said. "They will use names off of mailboxes, and if they see a UR flag in a neighborhood or Virginia Tech or UVa flag, that's a good come-on. But we should be very, very careful of those people."
The police were notified of the scam after an alumna sent an e-mail to the athletic department describing the situation. The athletic department also received calls from residents asking about the so-called fundraisers.
Bob Black, the assistant director of communications for marketing and media relations for the Robins Center, who received the initial e-mail, said the alumna was immediately suspicious of the con artists.
"Something tipped them off," Black said. "It just didn't sound right."
The swindlers claimed to be on scholarships for the men's lacrosse team, Black said, but the university does not have an intercollegiate men's lacrosse team.
Other victims weren't so lucky. According to Norton, some people did donate to the scammers, but the amount is uncertain.
There are at least four reported incidents of the con game. Con artists with similar physical descriptions were also reported in neighborhoods south of the river in Richmond and in Winsor, Norton said, but in those instances, they claimed to be students from Virginia Tech.
"These things pop up from time to time," Norton said, "and they're never good. That's why we try to tell everyone to call us and not participate. While some of them are legitimate, the large majority are not."
The suspects are one female and three males who looked to be college-aged, he said.
No more incidents have surfaced since the scam was publicized, so the police have no leads to follow, Norton said. The investigation is in the hands of the Henrico County Division of Police and the Richmond Police Department.
"What I would think happened is they probably picked up the fact that it was on the news, packed up and went somewhere else," Norton said. "I wish we could apprehend them and straighten this kind of thing out but I imagine they hit quick and move."
Contact reporter Ali Eaves at firstname.lastname@example.org.