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VFW Warns Gas Stations About Fire Extinguisher Scam

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Keith Winkler figured it was just another evening delivery to his boss’ Escondido service station when the heavyset man in his 30s matter-of-factly put a $10 fire extinguisher on the counter and asked for the $40 donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“I get all kinds of delivery orders coming in--sometimes at night--and I just pay them like I’m supposed to,” said Winkler. In this case, he reached into the cash register, pulled out $40 and thanked the man.

Before the evening was over, the man--and a woman who was behind the wheel of the older, beat-up station wagon--apparently made stops to at least 12 other service stations in Escondido.

The quick-moving scam through Escondido on Tuesday night comes in the wake of similar complaints from service station owners elsewhere in San Diego County, according to offended VFW officials and police detectives who are trying to piece together the clues.

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Art Harris, the commander of the VFW in San Diego County, said his office has received more than 50 complaints in recent days from service station owners.

“The VFW has absolutely no part in this whatsoever,” Harris said, anguished.

The VFW has conducted a similar fund-raising campaign--the sale of fire extinguishers at an above-retail cost, with profits going to the veterans’ organization. But “we only take checks, never cash,” Rich Stacey, who manages the VFW’s fund-raising office in San Diego, said.


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