Second Chance nonprofit warns residents of door-to-door scams in San Diego neighborhoods

The nonprofit Second Chance has received several reports from residents of impersonators using its name for fake donations.
(Andrea Lopez-Villafaña/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Organization leaders say this is not the first time the nonprofit has dealt with scammers using the group’s name.


Jan Wagner, a Carmel Valley resident, was sitting inside his home when the doorbell rang.

Wagner greeted the person at the door through a 20-year-old intercom. The man’s voice that came through said he was collecting funds for the nonprofit San Diego Second Chance Program, which provides workforce readiness training, sober-living housing and educational programs to formerly incarcerated youths and adults.

“It seemed odd that someone would be soliciting door-to-door while we have a stay-at-home order,” Wagner said, adding that he turned the person away.

The nonprofit Second Chance does not employ door-to-door solicitors and organization leaders say this is not the first time solicitors have used the organization’s name to scam San Diego-area residents into giving money.

The nonprofit has been aware of the issue for several years now, but it has been difficult to prevent it from happening despite news coverage, information on its website and donor outreach, said Maureen Polimadei, the donor and volunteer engagement manager for Second Chance.

The nonprofit is typically alerted to the incidents a day or two after they happen, which makes it difficult to report to police, she said.

The organization recently received reports of door-to-door scams in the neighborhoods of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, North Park and in the cities of La Mesa and Solana Beach. Two reports were filed in the past month.

Polimadei said the coronavirus pandemic could be contributing to the spike in reports because fake solicitors know people are home.

“When this happens it’s really a shame,” Polimadei said.

In most cases, the solicitor — sometimes carrying a fake badge or document with the organization’s name — approaches a home pretending to be representatives of Second Chance and asks people to donate money, buy candy or a magazine subscription, Polimadei said.

She said many people make donations of $10 to $20 to the fake solicitors.

“It’s always disappointing and disheartening,” she said. “At the end of the day we do the best that we can as staff to support participants and educate donors.”

Second Chance accepts online donations through its website. Its website also has a warning for donors: “Second Chance does not solicit funds door-to-door. Nor do we send our youth out in the community to sell candy or subscriptions.”

Law enforcement officials recommend researching charities on the California Attorney General’s registry of charitable organizations, avoid donating over the phone or responding to solicitations by email, and donate with check or credit cards not cash.

Wagner, who has lived in Carmel Valley for more than 20 years, said he had no reason to doubt the solicitor, who he described as polite, except that it seemed inappropriate that a nonprofit would send solicitors out during a pandemic.

“It comes down to if something sounds fishy maybe it is,” Wagner said.

The Encanto-based nonprofit is currently operating its programs virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It serves about 150 participants across eight youth and adult programs. The nonprofit’s hands-on youth gardening program, which provides nutrition and urban farming training, is not operating because of the pandemic.

ANDREA LOPEZ-VILLAFAÑA is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune