BOISE -- Following KTVB's story on Monday night about an older woman stopping in aBoise tow truck company with an odd story and a tearful request for some cash to save her home, at least nine other businesses from Nampa to Mountain Home have come forward with similar stories in southwest Idaho.
The scam: A collector's truck and a sad story
Kathi VanderMeer, owner of Boise Valley Towing, says an older lady going by the name Cheryl Barnes came into her shop on April 25. Barnes said her late husband Jack Barnes had made a connection with VanderMeer's husband and left him a 1955 Ford truck.
Then, the story turned to needing $566 in cash to pay a contractor so she wouldn't lose her home. The red flags started appearing.
We went back and forth over, and it was odd, VanderMeer said. But only because I kept feeling like someone was going to jump out and say 'smile, you're on candid camera'. It was that kind of weird. But I had this very nice, elderly lady there with tears in her eyes telling me her story.
Since VanderMeer came forward, she, KTVB, the Better Business Bureau, and Boise Police have collectively taken multiple reports from small business owners that the same woman came in with the same story.
The stories are grouped around April 2013 and then April 2014. Some business owners have given her money.
Auto repair shop manager: 'She was smooth'
Kent Beckman, the manager of State Street Auto Repair, says the woman stopped in his store last year. Feeling terrible for the woman and her sad story, he gave the woman money. She was supposed to come back with the truck for his boss and return his money, but she never did.
Man, she was smooth. The tears, the whole bit. She gave me a hug for giving her the money, and I'll be right back and thank you so much, Beckman said. That was probably about 4:00 in the afternoon. She said she'd be back before 6:00. About 6:15, I got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
He reported the scam and probable fraud to Boise Police, but he didn't have any photos or video, so there wasn't much to go on.
I remember throwing the officer's card away several months ago thinking that'll never happen. That's done, Beckman said.
Then, Beckman's coworker saw VanderMeer's story on KTVB. Beckman saw the security video from the towing company and knew it was the same situation.
When I saw the description of the story and the lady's face, I thought, that's it. Let's go, Beckman said.
Another shop owner hit this year: 'She acted like she knew everybody in town'
Doug Kriebs, owner of Kriebs Highway 30 Auto Parts in Mountain Home, says the woman calling herself Cheryl Barnes came into his shop about two hours before going to VanderMeer's Boise shop on April 25. While she had a well-rehearsed story and would pick up on names to drop, he was skeptical of the story she was pitching, too.
I'm thinking, I don't recognize this at all. I don't place the names. I don't place anything, Kriebs said.
The older woman told him about a truck and began telling him about financial troubles with her home, but customers came in, and she never ended up asking for money.
Then I had customers walk in, so she couldn't finish it, Kriebs said. It was coming. It was going to come. But she didn't feel comfortable talking about it with other people in here.
Kriebs was able to pull security camera video of the woman getting out of her car, which he says appears to be a brand new dark blue or black Volkswagen Passat, possibly with California plates. Another business owner in Mountain Home later told Kriebs he is certain the car had Washington plates.
Better Business Bureau taking multiple reports
The Better Business Bureau says red flags in this case were an overly complicated story from the woman, offering a gift that seemed to good to be true, and asking for cash only.
She was a very sweet little old lady, but by the same token, that's what scares me the most is because when your emotions are involved, it's really easy to draw people in, VanderMeer said.
When she can break your heart, then you open your wallet and give her some money, Robb Hicken, Better Business Bureau, said.
The BBB has now taken multiple, similar calls from businesses. Hicken believes the scammer selects shops traditionally owned by men and uses her stories to appeal to them, especially a collector's truck.
Salvage yards, concrete companies, welding companies. Not typical businesses that a woman would be operating. And I think that's her mode is that she goes in and talks to the men and pulls on the men's heartstrings, Hicken said.
Hicken advises if you're usure about giving a person money, take a step back from the situation and ask someone you trust if it sounds like a good idea.
Make sure you're looking at the person and the incident and don't get taken away by the emotion, Hicken said.
Boise Police: 'It has renewed the investigation'
Boise Police, which initially took Beckman's report a year ago, has combined that case with VanderMeer's security video and report and other tips now that people are realizing there's a pattern.
Patterns are extremely important in establishing a pattern of behavior that is strong enough to take a case all the way through prosecution, Lynn Hightower, Boise Police Department, said.
Hightower says this particular case highlights why people should always call in tips, even if they seem small or incomplete.
You never know when your bit of information combined with other little bits of information really builds a solid case against someone who needs to be held accountable for the crimes they're committing, Hightower said.
Beckman is certainly glad VanderMeer shared her story and her video, so he was able to start his case back up again. He hopes the woman is caught, but he says he doesn't have high hopes of recovering his money.
At least we're building a case, and just warn everybody else to watch out for her and get more information than I did when she's in there. Because it's a quick one, Beckman said.