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Con men target beauty pageant hopefuls

/ 12:24 AM May 22, 2015

SAN PEDRO CITY—Con artists in the province of Laguna have found another way to pull off their ugly scams—beauty contests.

The Laguna provincial government on Wednesday reiterated a public warning against a supposed scam that involved tourism councils, talent handlers and models.

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Provincial tourism officer Dr. Rosauro Sta. Maria said his office had received several reports about a female caller recruiting local talents and models to Fiesta Republica. According to him, the victims were told to wire cash, amounting from P1,500 to P5,000 as a supposed preregistration pageant fee.

It turned out, Fiesta Republica is a festival in Malolos, Bulacan province. What concerned them most, he added, was that the caller introduced herself as a Laguna official or the official’s wife, making the modus sound more convincing.

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Warning memo

“We definitely do not solicit any amount (for any pageant). In fact, we should be the ones helping these (talents),” Sta. Maria said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

The Laguna tourism office, on May 8, issued a memorandum addressed to municipal and city tourism councils about the scam.

This was after a number of tourism officers reported that an alleged Councilor Ruth Mariano, who introduced herself as “the loving wife of Laguna Gov. Ramil Hernandez” called them up, informing them that local models had been chosen to represent Laguna in a beauty pageant.

Mariano, a councilor in Calamba City, had denied being the source of the calls, Sta. Maria said.

Getting bolder

On the Facebook page of the provincial tourism office, several Laguna residents, among them a fashion designer and a studio photographer, claimed to have fallen victims after receiving a similar call or text message.

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Laguna information officer Christopher Sanji said the scam has been going on since early December 2014 although it has become more rampant this month. Cases were reported from Sta. Cruz and Mabitac towns and in the cities of Biñan and San Pablo.

‘Hypnotized’

Callers claim to be Maita Ejercito, the mayor of Pagsanjan and wife of former Laguna Gov. Jeorge Ejercito, or Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones.

Sanji said victims were told to wire the cash through Smart Padala, “making it harder for us to trace (them).”

Sta. Maria said they have coordinated with the provincial police.

“I don’t know how they do it but it seems (the victims) were being hypnotized on the phone. One said the caller sounded so much like Maita (Ejercito),” he said.

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