A man posing as an employee of well-known heating and air-conditioning companies in Wichita is scamming local businesses.
Fahnestock Plumbing, HVAC and Electric owner Eric Fahnestock said Friday that the man is not his employee. Calls started coming in two weeks ago from Wichita businesses saying that a Fahnestock worker had borrowed money for locksmith services and never repaid the loan.
As of Friday afternoon, the company had received five phone calls.
The man is described by victims as white, in his 40s, 6 feet tall and slender with brown hair. His appearance is neat, victims said.
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Last Wednesday, he was wearing a work shirt and jeans, or coveralls, and a baseball hat and used the names Earl Fahnestock and Earl Thomson.
"I thought maybe he was a relative (of Fahnestock)," said Dean Schlabach, owner of Air Capital Mattress Co., 2305 N. Broadway. Schlabach was a victim of the man shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The man said he was working at a nearby church and had locked his keys in his van and couldn't find his extra set, Schlabach said. The man said he had $5 and needed $20 to pay a locksmith. He said he would reimburse Schlabach after his van was unlocked, but didn't want to call Fahnestock because he would get into trouble.
Schlabach gave the man a $50 bill and told him to bring back change. The man never returned.
Three hours later, the man used a similar story to scam $15 from an employee of Mennonite Housing, 2145 N. Topeka. There, the man wrote down a false name and phone number.
Fahnestock said his employees wear hats or shirts with the company logo and carry cell phones. They are instructed to contact their supervisors if they lock their keys in their vans.
"We have a reputable business, as do most, and we don't want this to happen again if we can stop it," Fahnestock said.
In mid-December, Roth Heating & Air of Wichita received a rash of phone calls from local businesses that had loaned between $10 and $31 to the man, who was then posing as a Roth employee.
"We would get two or three calls a day," said Bev Cole, co-owner of Roth. "I just can't imagine how many people didn't call us."
"He's pretty brave to keep doing this," Cole said when she heard the man was now posing as a Fahnestock employee.
Lt. Clark Wiemeyer of the Wichita Police Department's Financial Crimes Investigation Division said it's unusual for someone to pose as a business employee in theft-by-deception cases.
"This person could call their company and have them come and unlock (the van)," Wiemeyer said. "Even on first view, this is suspicious."
Wiemeyer asked people who encounter similar situations to contact the police.