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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEWORLEANS -- Criminals are preying on New Orleans' homeless, asking them to cash bad checks and return stolen goods for them.

However, Eyewitness News has learned that illegal activity is landing some people behind bars and has homeless advocates up in arms.

It's tough enough being homeless with no place to sleep at night and always having to watch your back.

'They were coming around in a car. Talking to people and they asked me about it. I said, no I don't have an ID. If I had an ID, you ain't getting it,' said a homeless woman who did not want to be identified.

Now a pair of con artists are trolling the streets of New Orleans trying to recruit the homeless and their state-issued ID's to commit crimes.

'They send one guy in and he's under dressed to blend in with our guests. He sort of mills about trying to snare people,' said Don Thompson, who runs the Harry Tompson Center.

The facility is a daytime safe space for the city's homeless. But recently Thompson says two men driving out of state cars continue to show up at the center coaxing clients to commit illegal activity.

'Returning goods to Wal-mart or Home Depot; or they need help exchanging or cashing in metal at a recycling place; or the most dangerous or most problematic, they need help cashing a check,' said Thompson who said those checks can go as high as $3,000 or $4,000.

Thomas said the homeless are then offered a cut of the money they cash. However, he said it is not the men behind the scams that are getting in trouble with the law, it is the homeless.

'Two people have actually done time and are serving a multi-year probation. Two people are in jail now waiting on their case, and two folks are sought by East Baton Rouge Parish, two of our folks,' said Thompson.

A few blocks away at the Ozanam Inn, staff say the homeless are also being targeted at places like Lafayette Square or by the underpass near the New Orleans Mission.

'In the time that I've been here this is the third or fourth time that this type of thing goes on,' said Ozanam Inn Executive Director Biaggio Digiovanni.

The scam may not be a new one to the area, but as one homeless woman told Eyewitness News, desperate times can push people to commit crime.

'That's why they come under [the interstate]. If you want to make $10 or $20 dollars to return tools to the Home Depot -- they're stealing people's stuff. That is wrong. That is not right.'

Remi Braden, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Police Department, says police won't comment on any ongoing investigation.

Eyewitness News also contacted the Home Depot on Carrollton Avenue and a manager confirmed that the store has seen a number of homeless people attempting to return store items.

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