Scam targets supporters of police, firefighters

The Fraud Alert - Don Shrader

The phone rings. The caller asks for you or your spouse by name. If one is not available, the other will do. The caller then begins, “This is so-and-so with the National Policeman and Firefighters Relief Association (or some similar sounding group) and we are kicking off our latest campaign fund designated to (do one of many options from helping the families of slain police officers and firefighters, to electing politicians who will support our frontline defenders).”

Of course, these particular groups have been “kicking off their latest fundraising campaign” every week for several years now. Evidently, it is an effective means of getting many peoples’ attention because they all use it frequently. At times, they also call several times in a week, which makes their motives and incentives even more suspicious.

One must ask, “How can they afford to do that unless they are receiving the majority of the funds raised for either administration or fundraising?” Unfortunately, according to the charity watchdog websites I have checked, this is too often the case with these groups.

There is no doubt that police and firefighters risk their lives every day to make our communities safer. Therein lies the problem in that the majority of us should and do want to support our frontline defenders and their families, particularly the families of those severely wounded, injured, or slain in the line of duty. But, we should also want the majority of the monies we give to go to the cause, not to the fundraisers or administrators of the charity. For the fundraisers, this has been a particularly good time to solicit funds with all the riots last year and subsequent calls to defund the police. Many of us sympathize with, and emotionally and politically support, our many frontline defenders/responders.

However, before you agree to support the caller’s organization or give them any monies, here are a few do’s and don’ts:

“Give with your mind as well as your heart,” warns Hugh Jones, President of the National Association of State Charity Officials. Do not agree to give an amount over the phone; if the caller is pressuring you, don’t give in.

Before you “write the check,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urges you to consider these facts:

Simply having the words “police” or “firefighter” in an organization’s name doesn’t mean police or firefighters are members of the group.

Just because an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters doesn’t mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety.

The organization should be able to provide you with written information describing the programs your donation will support, and their fund-raising costs before you donate.

Most solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by paid professional fundraisers.

Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible. Many kinds of organizations are tax exempt, including fraternal organizations, labor unions, and trade associations, but donations to them may not be tax deductible.

The FTC and other websites recommend that before you donate to a particular organization, you “call your local police or fire department to verify a fund-raiser’s claim to be collecting on behalf of the organization or department. If the claim cannot be verified, report the solicitation to your local law enforcement officials.”

These same websites also urge you to ask questions of the caller such as, “how your contribution will be used. Ask what percentage of your contribution will go to the fire or police organization, department, or program, or if the donation is tax-deductible.” My only problem with asking questions like this to the caller is that while federal law governs what a caller must legitimately provide, crooks do not abide by the law, particularly those overseas callers that are able to use a local exchange or even another local person’s personal phone number to call you.

If you wish to give to the organization represented by the caller, or by some other solicitation such as by mail or email, my recommendation is that you first:

Obtain the exact name of the organization to which you are considering giving because many organizations use very similar names with some being legitimate and others being extremely undesirable if not downright dishonest.

Check out the organization via various sources, many of which can be accessed through the internet. Often, you can learn about these organizations by finding their Better Business Bureau (BBB) ratings and comments, searching various charity watchdog websites, and even by looking up the website of the organization. A “Google” search of the organization will often yield important insights into the “charity.”

You can also contact the organization directly and request that they send you written information on the organization to include current audited financial statements.

During your research, look for various telltale signs that indicate the monies you give will not be going to help the frontline defenders or their families, such as:

Is the charity actually a tax-deductible charity? Many are not because they are not a true charity; they are Political Action Committees (PACs), or union organizing groups, or other such groups whereby the funds go to other issues rather than directly helping those they claim to benefit.

Does a sufficient percentage of the monies donated actually go to the cause for which you are intending to donate and how much goes to other activities such as administration and fundraising?

Be aware that crooks continue to rake in millions of dollars every year for what sounds like very worthy causes. Just because the cause would be a worthy one if it were legitimate, the watchdog websites tell you over and over that too many of these solicitations are made by crooked organizations whereby the donated funds go directly into the pockets of these crooks. So, be very wary! One reason there is a plethora of illegitimate calls every day is that there are so many gullible people wanting to do the right thing but unwilling to take the time to research the legitimacy of the charity and just say “No!” until so doing.

Once you are satisfied that a certain organization is legitimate and worthy of your financial support, keep that name and address on file and only donate to those organizations on your list that you have deemed are legitimate. Do not pledge funds to unknown groups that solicit you by phone, mail, or email. I also recommend that you do not give via credit card, especially to someone who has called you. Giving via credit card can result in the organization charging you monthly, or even weekly, and it will be a nightmare getting them to stop charging your card because you gave them your card information in the first place, thus tacitly agreeing for them to charge the card even if that is not what you meant.

It is especially important that you never give them a debit card number in that they can drain your bank account before you can stop them and there is no recovery like is available via a credit card. Finally, do not be scammed by such groups sending you a donation pledge letter claiming that you owe them money because you pledged a certain amount.

The Fraud Alert

Don Shrader