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Cell-Phone Scam Victim Declines $900 Donation Offer

Chinese student asks that money be given to American Red Cross as detectives press investigation

A college student from China who lost nearly $1,000 in an alleged cell-phone scam just hours after arriving in Santa Barbara has declined an anonymous $900 donation, and asked that the money be given to a local charity instead.

The 23-year-old student was approached Aug. 11 by a man and a woman who offered to help him buy a cell phone. After collecting more than $900 in cash with a promise to deliver the phone, the couple left the man at a Goleta gas station, where he waited two hours before realizing he had been robbed, authorities said. Just hours earlier, the man had arrived in Santa Barbara to attend a three-month English as a Second Language program.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said Saturday that a group of local citizens, calling themselves the San Ysidro Pharmacy Breakfast Boys, learned of the theft from media reports and offered to reimburse the student for his loss. Sugars said the man was moved by the strangers’ kindness but, in the spirit of giving, instead requested that the money be donated to the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter.

After checking into an Upper State Street motel on Aug. 11, authorities say the student walked to La Cumbre Plaza to purchase a cell phone. While at an Apple kiosk inside Macy’s, he was approached by a man who allegedly said he could help buy him a phone for less money. The student gave the suspect $700 to do so, authorities say.

The suspect, accompanied by a woman and a young girl, drove the victim to a cell phone store at Camino Real Marketplace, but the store was closed for the night. According to authorities, the woman told the student she could get into the store through a back door and pick up a cell phone. When the student told the couple he wanted an iPhone 4, he was told it would be another $200, which authorities said he provided.

The female suspect inside Macy's at La Cumbre Plaza.
The female suspect inside Macy’s at La Cumbre Plaza. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

As the woman walked behind the building, the male suspect drove the victim to a gas station in the 6800 block of Hollister Avenue. After entering the gas station store, authorities say the suspect told the victim he needed to retrieve his wallet from the car. The victim waited in the store for two hours until the store clerk called police.

The male suspect is described as 30 years old, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall with dark black hair. Detectives have released surveillance images in an attempt to identify one or both suspects. The suspects are believed to have been driving a white four-door 2007 Ford Fusion or similar model vehicle.

Sugars said Saturday that the case remains under investigation. Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call sheriff’s detectives at 805.681.4150 or the Sheriff’s Anonymous Tip Line at 805.681.4171.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk.

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