CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers say a man impersonating left tackle Travelle Wharton has defrauded a handful of people out of about $25,000.
Panthers director of security Gene Brown said Wednesday that the man has an identification card with Wharton's name and has been able to dupe "about four or five people" into investment scams.
Wharton, a former USC standout, said he has not been the victim of identity theft, but wanted to come forward to warn others who might be approached by the man.
"It's your name, something you work hard for," said Wharton, a starter on the Panthers' offensive line since his rookie season in 2004. "To have somebody doing this, it's kind of a shock and I feel violated."
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Brown said the first incident was about a year ago, when a woman in the Atlanta area claimed she lost $5,300 when the unidentified man promised he would promote events surrounding the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament in Charlotte. The incidents have continued in the Charlotte area this year.
Brown said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, Pineville (N.C.) police and NFL security are investigating. He said the man has been identified, but no arrests have been made.
Charlotte police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said she had no information on the case.
"If somebody approaches you, do your research," the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Wharton said. "Be very cautious."
Brown said he set up a meeting with the first unidentified woman who claimed to be defrauded and Wharton shortly after she contacted the team.
"This person was supposedly going to promote some big event and was going to turn her $5,300 into, I don't know, $15,000 or $20,000 in a matter of a few weeks," Brown said. "She sat down and as soon as she looked at Travelle she knew that it was not him and that she had been duped."
The Panthers say there was another incident about a year ago when a person posing as Panthers safety Charles Godfrey was soliciting money for tickets to games and postgame visits to the locker room.
"Our players don't raise money that way," Brown said. "People just need to be very cautious."