Some panhandlers may be part of organized crime ring, Irvine police warn

One woman who claimed to be a struggling mother was actually part of a large scheme to solicit money, the city's police department said.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Irvine Police Department is warning the public of aggressive panhandlers they say might not be people in need at all, but part of an organized crime ring.

Irvine police said they're seeing a rise in crime that is two-fold -- taking money from hard-working residents.

The formula is a hot item right now being stolen, especially with our organized retail crime groups,” Irvine Police Sgt. Karie Davies told NBC4.

Police are responding to more fraudulent Electronic Benefit Transfer card crimes purchasing baby formula, especially at Target, according to Davies.

“When they start tracing back where the payment is coming from, they're using multiple different gift cards, multiple different cards with people's names on it,” she said.

On Dec. 13, the Target at Irvine Spectrum called police for a woman attempting to use fraudulent cards to purchase 40 cans of baby formula, according to Davies.

When police responded, what they found on her was even more concerning -- $4,000 in cash, and a sign that read: “SELLING ROSES. PLEASE HELP FOR FOOD. MOM OF 4 KIDS. STRUGGLING GOD BLESS!”

She had a sign in her car that she used to solicit money from people standing on the freeway off-ramp or in the parking lots of Ralphs or other supermarkets,” Davies exclaimed.

Police believe the woman is part of an organized crime ring that is skimming ATMs and creating fraudulent EBT cards. They say the group is also known to panhandle.

“The sign said something about she needs food. She's struggling. She has four kids, but on the back end of that story, is she's using other people's information to basically support her lifestyle,” she added.

Irvine local Alex Rahmani told NBC4 that he has been encountering more panhandlers at gas stations in Irvine, where he didn’t used to.

People asking for gas money kind of making up a story that they're with people and then they're not with anybody,” Rahmani said. “Once you know the story is not true, you don't know what the truth is anymore.”

Davies said it’s safest to help those in need by giving items such as food or donating to nonprofits, and people can always call their mental health community health team to respond.

“We have a whole team that will go out and contact those people, offer those resources,” she said.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is handling charges for the woman arrested on Dec. 13. She is facing possible burglary and identity theft charges.

Police responded to the same Target at Irvine Spectrum for fraudulent EBT cards to purchase baby formula again Thursday. They’re still investigating the circumstances of that case and who is involved.

Contact Us