Phoenix families scammed out of Christmas gifts

Posted at 10:27 PM, Dec 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-21 11:40:05-05

Dozens of lower-income families have been scammed out of gifts just days before Christmas. A woman who said she’d provide the gifts has disappeared, and the families are now left hoping for a miracle before Friday.

A Facebook group that connects families in need with people who can provide gifts for them was the target of this scam.

Christina Avina has been running the Facebook group “Tender Hearts Christmas Angels” for the past three years.

“We donate to children in need,” she said. “I’m kind of the middle man. So I post photos and people go on there and pick children, kind of like they get to see where the gift is going.”

She said she’s never had an issue with the process until this year when she said someone posting under the name Audreyanna Rodriguez agreed to sponsor more than 50 families.

“She made contact with these people,” she explained. “They swapped information, swapped phone numbers (and) swapped addresses."

Delivery day was supposed to be Saturday. The person posting even uploaded a picture showing that she was heading out with the gifts.

“I showed (my children) the same picture that we saw on Facebook,” said Andrea Bella, a mom of three. “He kept asking constantly, ‘Are they going to be here?’”

But the woman never showed up for any of the families she agreed to help out.

“It’s just wrong,” Bella said. “To get all those children’s hopes up.”

Another mom waiting for gifts, Rosa Maria Vargas, is equally disappointed.

“Yesterday she told me 10 o’clock, and so we woke up early,” she said. “I made breakfast, got the kids dressed and we were waiting all day for them.”

Families took to Facebook to air their frustration. That’s when Avina did a Google search and found that the picture Rodriguez posted was fake. The original photo was from a casino’s toy drive.

“I felt horrible as soon as I saw the photo from somewhere else,” Avina said.

The person posting as Rodriguez has since stopped responding to the people she said she’d sponsor, even blocking some of them on Facebook.

“It hurts me because it hurts my kids,” Bella said.

“It just made my heart broken because of the kids,” Vargas said.

A woman with the name Audreyanna Rodriguez is now telling those in the Facebook group that she thinks her page was hacked.

Tender Hearts Christmas Angels was not the only group targeted. Another group called “Help for the holidays in Phoenix” was also scammed.

Here’s how you can help:

The Facebook group organizers are holding a toy drive this week at Pat’s Precision Auto Care in Glendale. Drop-off is between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.