Updated 10am Tuesday 30 March to include additional comments from ACT Policing.
Since January, members of the Weston Creek community have posted publicly on social media to say they were shocked by loud knocking on the door before the sun rose, to find a visibly upset middle-aged man asking for money to help him travel to Sydney, where his daughter has been killed in a car accident.
For three months, community members who do not believe his oft-repeated story of personal tragedy have shared updates in Facebook groups such as Weston Creek Neighbourhood Watch, detailing his behaviour, location and sharing photos identifying the alleged scammer.
The doorknocker is said to offer to drive residents to an ATM if they say they don’t have cash, and he is also known to approach shoppers in the Cooleman Court car park and escort them to an ATM.
When he knocked on the door of the Member for Murrumbidgee, Marisa Paterson MLA, she called the police.
“It’s a shock to have someone knock on your door early in the morning,” Dr Paterson told Canberra Weekly.
“I was aware he was doing this – but it didn’t mean it didn’t give me a big fright.
“I definitely think there’s a legitimate concern that older people who aren’t aware are being taken advantage of.”
On behalf of Weston Creek Community Council, committee member Bill Gemmell shared a post on Facebook on 26 March that alleged the doorknocker recently visited the home of a woman with dementia and “coerced her to hand over a large amount of cash”.
“The issue is he’s preying on vulnerable people,” Mr Gemmell said.
As a Waramanga resident, Dr Paterson said she had known of the individual for several years, and his behaviour should be considered a social welfare issue.
“I’ve tried to talk to him; but I don’t get much, he goes straight into his story about why he needs money and we know these are just stories.
“He needs support, so ‘How can we support him to stop this behaviour?’ is the ideal response.”
Dr Paterson said she was engaging with the community and doing everything she could to resolve the issue.
“I’m making representations to [Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman] on this issue, and I’m listening. I get it.”
She said creating awareness was key, but the fact the alleged scammer could “hardly move without it being reported on Facebook” was “a bit problematic as well”.
On 4 March, ACT Policing Detective Inspector Mark Rowswell told Canberra Weekly that Police had not received reports of door-to-door scams in Canberra “in recent weeks”.
He said it was important to discuss the issue with family and friends to ensure they were vigilant and knew what to look for.
“If a person attends your house unexpectedly requesting money or offering services, be clear you are not interested and ask them to leave your property, or contact police on 131 444,” he said.
“Don’t let the person inside your house.”
In response to a second enquiry made by Canberra Weekly on 29 March, an ACT Policing spokesperson spoke in general terms about charity scams which “take advantage of generosity”.
“They involve a scammer asking for money due to illness or tragedy or by posing as a genuine or fake charity,” the spokesperson said.
“We tend to see this kind of door-to-door conmen come and go, as offenders target local areas for quick cash and then move on.”
This morning, 30 March, an ACT Policing spokesperson said they were aware of the individual.
“Depending on the nature of the incident, asking for money based on a fake illness could be considered fraudulent behaviour or an act of public nuisance,” they said.
When an individual loses money to a doorknocker posing as a charity worker, an offence may have occurred under the Charity Collections Act 2003, section 14, according to ACT Policing.
Begging is not an offence in the ACT, according to a Canberra Community Law fact sheet.
Without being provided a unique case number, ACT Policing is not able to confirm whether a formal report has been made.
Mr Gemmell of Weston Creek Community Council said he would raise the matter with attending MLAs at a public meeting this Wednesday 31 March.
If you are a victim of a scam and require police attendance, call 131 444.
Information on how to identify scams and protect yourself is available at www.scamwatch.gov.au.
Anyone who sees suspicious activity in their neighbourhood is urged to report it to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via the Crime Stoppers ACT website.
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