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Baton Rouge panhandlers caught lying about sick child in roadside charity scam

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BATON ROUGE - 'Tis the season for giving, but be aware of scammers looking for a quick buck. In one recent case, they've disguised themselves as panhandlers at a busy Baton Rouge intersection.

Prior to donating to a charitable cause, make sure you do your research.

This week, people have been seen holding signs along College Drive and Corporate Boulevard, asking for help for a baby in need named Sofia. The sign shows a photo of a baby hooked up to a breathing tube and says she needs heart surgery.

It's part of a national scam that popped up in Florida last month. The "Sofia Scam" usually has a group of at least three people with posters in high-traffic areas asking for donations. That money is just going into their pockets.

WBRZ confronted the solicitors this week, and they ran away from our camera, tucking the signs out of view.

Charity organizers here recommend you do not hand money to people on the street. There are signs posted in many areas of the city saying so.

Michael Acaldo with St. Vincent de Paul says that charity scams like this one give the good guys a bad rap.

"We're so thankful for all the support we get here in the local community, and it's only good generosity of the people that our work is possible, so when you see something that's not real, it shows a negative light," Acaldo said.

Instead, give to charities that you know. If a person you see has a phone, encourage them to call United Way's 211 line, or hand them a Hope Card. The printable cards can be found here, and it tells people who are in a situation of homelessness about the services St. Vincent de Paul provides.

The Baton Rouge Police Department says if you see something like this going on, report it. Officers will review each complaint and make a decision to proceed with enforcement.

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