A national con artist recently visited four sororities on campus, scaring members by telling them stories of rape, and then teaching them self-defense moves and encouraging them to buy his pepper spray.
President of Panhellenic Council Trisha Koors said all sororities have been warned to avoid further contact with the man.
“It doesn’t sound like he was trying to hurt the girls in any way,” she said. “I think he just took a vulnerable situation for girls and turned it into a moneymaking scheme for himself.”
The man, who calls himself David Reynolds, David Portnoy and David Parker, has visited schools in California, Iowa and Indiana.
He claims he is attached to organizations such as the Women’s Safety Education Group, which has posted a disclaimer on its Web site, saying the man is not affiliated with it.
Last Tuesday, he told Chi Omega he was affiliated with Women’s Safety Programs. However, no such organization comes up under a Google search, Chi Omega President Kerry Fluder said.
Reynolds has also visited Kappa Delta, Alpha Chi Omega and Sigma Kappa, where some members found him suspicious.
But members in Chi Omega, who did an Internet search after the presentation, were the first on campus to solidify the man as a con artist.
“He gave us his presentation, and everyone was blown away. I think there were only a few girls who didn’t buy the pepper spray,” Fluder said. “And then a couple girls went back home, and thought that he was creepy and couldn’t keep his story straight the whole time, so they went online.”
Members of Chi Omega only knew the man’s first name. However, Reynolds had said he was doing presentations in honor of a woman named Jennifer Portnoy, who was raped 22 times in four days.
When the members Googled David Portnoy, they found articles from other schools describing the man’s money-making act, some claiming the pepper spray was fake.
Fluder contacted Panhellenic Council to assure other sororities would not invite Reynolds in for a presentation. She also called University Police, who came and tested the pepper spray and verified it was real.
Kappa Delta member Cathy Geraghty said she believed the man’s presentation, and bought five pepper sprays from him for $50.
“It seemed really legitimate to me, I had no idea he was conning us,” she said. “But after I found out he did con us, one of my friends was saying how he was kind of trying to sell us the spray more than teach us defense mechanisms, and that’s where she thought it was a little shady. Looking back on it I was like ‘yeah it kind of was.’”
Geraghty said Reynolds looks friendly, in his mid-40’s and “like a dad.”
Katie Duncan, who was vice president of Sigma Kappa when he visited Dec. 2, said she was suspicious of the man upon his initial contact with the sorority, so she did some preliminary research but didn’t find anything on him.
“He came and did a good presentation,” Duncan said. “He had an interesting personality. We thought he was a little different, but he was nice.”
However, Duncan said her suspicion furthered when Reynolds gave his sales pitch for the pepper spray, which he hadn’t warned her was part of the presentation.
She said a line of girls immediately formed when he announced the sale, and she tried to suggest contacting him later with a list of names who were interested, but he ended up selling it to them on the spot.
“You never really think you’re going to get scammed,” Duncan said. “We still don’t know exactly what to think of the whole thing, because I don’t really see how you could make a bunch of money off of it.”
Fluder said the man tried to make more money by convincing girls to buy multiple pepper sprays.
“He told us how he went to talk to sex offenders in jail to see what kind of girls they look for, and they all said people like our moms,” she said. “But the FBI says it’s college girls … so we would buy multiple pepper sprays, one for our moms and one for ourselves.”
He charged $18 for one pepper spray and discounted them as the amount ordered increased.
Koors said Panhel discussed Reynolds at its meeting on Sunday, telling members to warn their national chapters. She also sent an e-mail about him to National Panhellenic Council.