LINCOLN PARK — Helping a Chicago Public Schools baseball team buy new jerseys because its school is closing seems like a kind thing to do, but police are warning residents that the plea could be a scam.
Groups of youths, and even some young adults, have been hitting up coffee shops, grocery stores and other small businesses on the city's North Side pleading for money for those jerseys.
Their flier even lists a cell phone number for "Coach" Grandville Whittsett for any good Samaritan who might be a little suspicious.
The number is actually Whittsett's, but he's not a coach in any aspect: He's a caseworker with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
That hasn't stopped the scammers from using his name and number in an attempt to lend some credibility to their "fundraising" efforts.
And it means Whittsett has been getting calls from those looking to donate. He said the calls don't really bother him because of what he's seen as a caseworker with DCFS.
"I deal with all types of kids. Kids who are very resourceful, very imaginative," Whittsett said. "It's a shame that you have a kind heart for a good deed, but you're putting yourself in a position to get ripped off."
Most of the callers tell Whittsett they were approached by the youths near a Jewel or Dominick's store.
Police said it's not a new scam, but one that has grown in complexity over the past few years.
In the city's Near North district, which includes Old Town and parts of Lincoln Park, police arrested three adults in December who were working a similar scam.
It's usually groups of three, according to police, with two of the offenders heading into a coffee shop and the third waiting in a car.
The latest group that was handing out fliers with Whittsett's phone number on them claimed the youths needed money due to the closing of "Schiller school."
Schiller Elementary, which served children in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, closed in 2009.
"With 50 schools closing [the baseball team] is also a safe environment for teens," the scam letter states.
Police suggest anyone who thinks they might be getting scammed call 911.