Saturday, September 17, 2005

Survivor Scam in Minnesota

Two Minneapolis papers, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune from Sept 16 and 17 respectively, reported a story that ultimately had me laughing hysterically.

A local woman, Derya Goral, was excited to offer her home to a hurricane victim, a woman of 22 named Rachelle Bruneau, not knowing that the young woman was a fraud - a freeloader posing as a Katrina victim. This part is not funny, of course, since using people's kindness in the aftermath of this tragedy is terrible, but read on.

The Minnesota woman figured out that Bruneau wasn't legitimate, but only after letting the stranger into her home and after a lot of effort to get her there and provide for her. Goral sent Bruneau packing, not realizing the "victim" was not only a fake but a fugitive from the law for supposed fraud, grand theft and probation violation. Once Bruneau had been sent away on a bus, the police came to Goral's door the next day looking for her. Can you almost hear Ms. Goral falling through the floor?

Bruneau had originally gone to a Christian shelter in Nashville, Tenn. claiming to be a survivor, but in fact is from Tampa, Florida - on the run. Goral found out about her by posting her home on MN responds, a Yahoo! group organized for the relief effort.

Rachelle Bruneau gave Goral some clues earlier on. One was when Goral arranged for Bruneau to pick up a bus ticket to get her from Louisiana to Minnesota that was being provided for by an agency, and Bruneau was told that the code word for her to pick it up with is "Katrina." Bruneau laughed and said, "that's such a funny name, why did you pick that? Are you Russian?"

At that point, I totally lost it and could hardly finish the story. All I know is that she hadn't been caught by September 16, so beware! Just keep a lookout for a woman who's never heard of the name of the worst natural disaster in US history but knows her languages!

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