Marion County

Salem tap water advisory attracts 'scammers'

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) -- The city-imposed advisory on Salem tap water continues through at least June 25, although testing samples continue to show the toxins in the water are below EPA guidelines. That means the water is safe to drink.

But some scammers are taking advantage of the situation and going door-to-door offering to test residents' water for cyanotoxins, both city and police officials said. Officials said they are aware of scammers in the Haysville neighborhood in Northeast Salem.

The City of Salem tweeted:

We have been made aware of a potential scam involving people going door-to-door offering to test your water for cyanotoxins. Please don't let them into your home. If they show up at your door call the @SalemPoliceDept non-emergency number at 503-588-6123. #SalemOR

And Salem police posted on their Facebook page:

Yes, #SalemOR, unfortunately scammers will take advantage of any situation. Please report suspicious all activity to the police department.

And remember, just because someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell—it doesn't mean you need to answer it.

Authorities became aware of the incidents through social media reports and calls to 311, the number used for the water advisory. City officials re-iterated their employees are not going out to test water at homes. All the water testing is being done at their facilities.

"The situation as far as we know now is occurring in Northeast Salem," said Salem Police Lt. Treven Upkes. "The gist of what we're hearing is that people are coming door-to-door asking residents to do a water test, and then try to sell them a water filtration system."

On May 29, city officials said, "Most water filters and purifiers will not remove this toxin from drinking water. See manufacturer’s recommendation for water filtration capabilities."

Neldya Contreras lives in the neighborhood and said it kind of scared her. "You don't know if those people are real from the county. If you let them in and then they try to see what you have, and what about later on when you're not in the house and they break in, you know?"

"Unfortunately, at times of difficulty such as this water advisory, there are unscrupulous people that go out and try and take advantage of good citizens," Upkes told KOIN 6 News. "At this point I think most of the homeowners have done the right thing and have not let people into their home, turned them away and then contacted us."

He said he did not know if anyone has given money to the bogus water testers. He also said there haven't been any calls for service through law enforcement lines, but they've been in contact with the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

"We believe the people when they say things are going on like that," he said. "We just don't have any hard, fast evidence."

Upkes said the best thing to do is ask the people who approach your house to leave, don't give them any personal information and then call the local authorities right away.

If someone knocks on your door about water testing, Upkes said people should call their non-emergency number. "But if it's a something that becomes a situation where someone won't leave your property, if they come and knock on your door, feel free to call 911."

Contreras said she can't wait for the water advisory to be done.

"People are always trying to take advantage, even on the phone or they come and knock at your door. I never trust people knocking on my door. I'm always, like, 'Oh, no, thank you.'"

She also said the advisory has been expensive.

"It's a lot of money we've been spending on bottled water," she said, "especially when I have little kids."

The advisory itself

On June 10, city officials extended the advisory as a precautionary measure to give enough time to find a long-term solution.

At their water treatment plant near Stayton, they're testing powder-activated carbon on some water samples to see if it will remover the toxins coming from an algae bloom in Detroit Lake, which is Salem's water source.

The carbon is mixed with some of the water, then added to water supply samples.

Kenny Larson with the City of Salem told KOIN 6 News on Friday they are wrapping up the small scale testing for the Powdered Activated Carbon and will begin a "medium scale demonstration test next week."

"It's safe for drinking water," said engineer Katie Ottoboni told KOIN 6 News Tuesday.. "The carbon will not end up in the drinking water because it is settled out and goes through 2 filters."

Larson also said there's no decision yet on when the Salem water advisory for vulnerable populations will be lifted. "We will continue to provide water at 9 distribution stations across our community," he said in an email to KOIN 6 News.

Though the water is safe to drink, officials said the advisory remains in effect for children under 6, people with compromised immune systems, people with pre-existing liver conditions, those on dialysis "or other sensitive populations," pregnant or nursing women, the elderly and pets.

Residents who need water should bring their own clean and sanitary container to drinking water filling stations that are operating around the clock. The current list of locations is on the City of Salem website.

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