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Rumors of local crime go online

POSTED: November 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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E-mails circulating in recent days that purport to warn of criminal threats in Hall County and surrounding areas are not entirely accurate, authorities said Thursday.

In some cases, they are totally inaccurate.

"It’s a rumor and completely false," Gwinnett Police Cpl. Illana Spellman said in reference to a chain e-mail that warns of a rash of hold-ups and credit card thefts at the Mall of Georgia in Buford.

Another e-mail warning of a roving band of burglars is attributed to Susan Rector, the director of Hall County’s business license department. The problem is, Rector didn’t write it.

Hall County sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said the e-mail, which tells of a young woman who talks her way into a home selling a carpet cleaning system, is only partially true. The writer of the e-mail — not Rector — said the girl carried an aerosol can and several men waited in a van.

Strickland said officials got complaints several weeks ago about over-aggressive tactics used by door-to-door salespeople hawking a Kirby brand vacuum cleaner in the Strickland Road area of South Hall. A young woman led the sales pitch, and when she was invited in, she signaled for two or three men waiting in a van to carry the equipment into the home, Strickland said. Some residents were intimidated by their sudden entry into their homes, Strickland said.

At no time was anyone robbed or burglarized, Strickland said.

After several calls from residents, sheriff’s officials stopped the van and cited the group for soliciting without a permit, Strickland said.

The rumor mill took hold of the story when a Hall County sheriff’s deputy sent out an e-mail to the agency’s neighborhood watch captains advising them of the salespeople and telling them to call 911 if they had any concerns. The e-mail from the sheriff’s office also included some safety tips, Strickland said.

"We had no thefts, no robberies and no burglaries associated with this group," Strickland said. "Since we cited them, we haven’t heard anything about them since."

In Gwinnett County, Spellman and Cpl. David Schiralli had to knock down false rumors of men who would prowl parking lots around the Mall of Georgia, ask for a cigarette and then force people into their cars at gunpoint, "driving for up to four hours to wipe out your bank account, steal your wallet, cell phone, car and everything else," according to the e-mail.

The e-mail also includes a tale of brazen wallet-snatching outside a department store near the Mall of Georgia that forced a woman to close her bank account in Oakwood, but not before losing several hundred dollars to fraudulent charges. It is untrue, police said.

"Every once in a while we get something like this," Schiralli, a Gwinnett Police Public Information Officer, said of the e-mail. "We want to make sure and ease the public’s fears. If it’s enough to cause mass concern with the public, it would be up to us to research if it’s true, and if not, dispel it. When these (e-mails) are false, we want them to know they don’t need to be afraid to go out."



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