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SALT LAKE CITY — If someone comes to your door offering a free carpet cleaning in exchange for a donation of canned food, promptly say "thanks, but no thanks," and then call the Utah Food Bank.
That’s advice straight from officials with the Utah Food Bank, who are warning the public of a new scam where individuals use the food bank’s name to get into people’s homes.
The scam involves people going door to door claiming to be representatives of the food bank and carrying plastic bags featuring the Utah Food Bank label. They tell residents they’ll give them a free carpet cleaning in exchange for a bag of food. The intentions of the scam are unclear.
The first red flag: the Utah Food Bank sets up locations for people to drop off donations, but it never sends people out to collect.
“We don’t do door-to-door solicitations. We’re not in the carpet cleaning business,” said Ginette Bott, the food bank’s chief development officer. “We don’t want people to think that we are encouraging this, supporting this, condoning this because this has nothing to do with the Utah Food Bank.”
The potential scam is especially troubling because of its timing. The Utah Food Bank’s Hunger Action Month food drive is Saturday, and it’s a huge event for the food bank — one it counts on to replenish its stores.
“This is a really important time for food pantries to utilize this type of event,” said Bott. “It kind of helps them, if you will, recover from the summer months. With this food drive we can restock and prepare as we go into the holiday season.”
We don't do door-to-door solicitations. We're not in the carpet cleaning business. We don't want people to think that we are encouraging this, supporting this, condoning this because this has nothing to do with the Utah Food Bank.
–Ginette Bott, the food bank's chief development officer
Reports of the scam have been popping up across the Salt Lake valley. In most cases, residents claim to have seen a silver of gray suburban-type vehicle driven by a woman with short blonde hair, a nose ring and tattoos.
“It is unfortunate that people are dishonestly using the food bank’s reputation in Utah to gain access to homes,” said Utah Food Bank President and CEO Jim Yorgason. “We hope this doesn’t deter people from participating in Hunger Action Month this Saturday.”
Those who want to make a legitimate donation are asked to take their canned food to their neighborhood Walmart from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday or visit a local food pantry. For a full list of drop-off locations, you can visit the Utah Food Bank’s website.
“You’re in control, you’re making the donation and you’re taking the product to us,” Bott said. “We just felt like it was really important to let people know that this was happening and to be on the lookout. Recognize this is not how the Food Bank does things. Above everything else we want safety and for people to feel comfortable with what the Utah Food Bank does do in the community.”
Items most needed at this time include high-protein meats, fruits, vegetables and sauces. Residents across the state may notice flyers on their doors advertising Saturday’s event and offering to pick up donations from your porch, but groups authorized by the Utah Food Bank will not request access to your home, nor will they offer services in exchange for food.
More than 470,000 Utahns rely on donations to eat, Yorgason said.
“Hunger is still a real issue in Utah, and even though the economy is rebounding and our state is doing better than most states, there’s an audience that’s being left behind,” Bott said.
If someone does come to your door offering to clean carpets, please call the Utah Food Bank at 801-978-2452, or your local police department.
Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.