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Scammer rips off 11-year-old boy at lemonade stand with fake $100 bill

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/10/2022 Jonathan Edwards
Jeremy Ryzhonkov. © Courtesy KCPQ Jeremy Ryzhonkov.

Jeremy Ryzhonkov was basking in the afterglow. The 11-year-old had just scored a big sale while working his lemonade stand at a busy intersection near his home in Everett, Wash. A man bought about $20 worth of snacks and drinks from Jeremy’s cooler, and the boy planned to use the profits to keep building his business while sending a portion of the funds to people in war-torn Ukraine.

But suspicion started to nag at Jeremy after the customer walked away from the stand where, aside from lemonade, he sells popcorn, cotton candy and a variety of sodas, KCPQ reported. The $100 bill the man had given him didn’t feel right, and its coloring seemed off. Jeremy went to a nearby gas station, where a clerk gave him the bad news.

“Nope, not real,” Jeremy said, recounting the interaction to the TV station.

Having gotten about $80 in change for the C-note, the man had scammed the 11-year-old out of all the money he had earned that day, which Jeremy planned to use to expand his growing set of entrepreneurial endeavors — selling snacks in person, selling them via vending machines, shoveling snow in the winter, mowing lawns in the summer. The boy reported the con to the Everett Police Department, which told The Washington Post that detectives are still investigating, working tips they’ve received since going public with the case last week.

While filming for his YouTube channel, Jeremy captured video of the June 15 transaction and the suspect. Police released a still image of that footage last week. Although two men are shown in the screenshot, detectives have described only one as a suspect.

The budding entrepreneur said he started his myriad businesses so he could make money to grow his empire, to send what he could to his ancestral homeland of Ukraine and to, well, buy things he wants — and he knew no one was going to just give him the cash for all that.

“I think there is nothing in the world that is free,” he told KING.

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The scammer hit the lemonade stand on June 15, Everett police told The Post in an email. Jeremy said the incident left him “very disappointed, very sad,” especially because it forced him to shut down. On Thursday, Everett police went public with what happened, and after several requests from people wanting to help, Jeremy’s neighbor, Amy Steenfott, started a GoFundMe campaign to help Jeremy recoup his losses. She set a goal of raising $250.

That turned out to be unambitious. By Saturday, she’d raised some $1,800. By Tuesday, $13,000. And by early Wednesday, some 1,100 people had donated nearly $25,000. On the site, Steenfott said she’d tied the Ryzhonkovs to the GoFundMe campaign so they could withdraw money directly.

“This proves that there are so many great people in this world and we far surpass the bad ones,” Steenfott wrote in an update on Sunday.

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Jeremy, who turned 12 last week, reopened his stand on Friday, KING reported. He was back to hawking snacks, selling drinks and spinning sugar floss into cotton candy. Although he didn’t allow getting swindled to shut him down permanently, he reopened with some new rules. Starting now, he accepts only small bills and makes sure to check them twice.

Strangers helped on that front, too. While he was working his stand late last week, a woman stopped by to give Jeremy a counterfeit detection pen, KING reported. “Next time somebody does that, mark the bill. If it comes up a weird color, it’s fake,” she told him.

Jeremy’s father, Sergiy Ryzhonkov, implored the scammers to change their ways. “Look at your future,” he told KCPQ. “Where are you going to end up? These kids trust in you as you are [an] adult. You should [be an] example for them.”

His son was more direct in his message to the men who ripped him off.

“Stop scamming, like, kids.”

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