Ask Us: What phone solicitations for first responders are valid?
Published 12:10 am Monday, February 17, 2020
Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to email@example.com.
SALISBURY — A reader asked which, if any, telephone solicitations for donations to police, highway patrol, sheriff’s and other first responder “causes” are valid?
The short answer is: it depends.
“There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all rule’ out there,” said Patty Hsue, a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. “There are going to be legitimate charities that are fundraising and illegitimate charities that are fundraising.”
There have been issues of fraud with charities that claim to help groups like veterans, policemen and firefighters. For example, the Disabled Police and Sheriff’s Foundation, Inc. (DPSF), which also did business under other names, was shut down in 2019, according to a 2019 FTC press release. The group raised over $9.9 million in phone solicitations, although it spent only a slim minority of that helping officers.
However, the actual number of charity scams can be difficult to estimate, Hsue said. Many times people do not know that they have been scammed.
The North Carolina Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Division received 1,545 telemarketing complaints in 2019, which encompass a broad range of complaints including charity scams, according to Nazeen Ahmed, a communications advisor at the North Carolina Department of Justice.
Various government offices and agencies govern charities and phone solicitations. Licensing for charity solicitation is overseen by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Charities Division, according to Ahmed.
In North Carolina, charitable solicitations are governed by general statute 131F, Ahmed said. The statue requires phone solicitors to disclose why they are asking for contributions and how any donations would actually be used.
On the federal level, the Telemarketing Sales Rule applies to those who often solicit on behalf of charities. Broadly put, the Telemarketing Sales Rule doesn’t allow telefunders to lie about the organization they are calling on behalf of, whether they are tax deductible, how the money will be used, the amount that goes to the actual charity, or other things, Hsue said.
“Basically, they can’t misrepresent what they’re fundraising on behalf of,” Hsue said.
It also includes a provision that they cannot call a person who has asked to stop receiving calls from that charity.
Although Salisbury’s Fire Department has received unsolicited donations from the public in the past for special projects, “the City of Salisbury Fire Department does not have fundraisers for fire department operations,” said Fire Chief Bob Parnell. It receives a budget from the City of Salisbury.
However, there are fundraisers conducted by associated groups, Parnell said. For example, there is an annual collection of funds through International Association of Firefighters for muscular dystrophy.
But, as to the legitimacy of such fundraisers, “the public could expect announcements of any such fundraisers via social media on official City of Salisbury social media accounts, newspapers articles by city fire department officials and other official mediums,” as opposed to telephone campaigns.
“We do not and would not use a telephone campaign method of fundraising. The Salisbury Fire Department has never received funds from a sanctioned telephone campaign (to my knowledge),” Parnell said.
The Salisbury Police Department does not hold fundraisers either, said Police Chief Jerry Stokes.
“We would never contact people by phone even if we did hold a fundraiser,” Stokes said. “We apply for grants from various organizations such as United Way, but they would not solicit using our name.”
As far as the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office goes, there is an annual Sheriff’s Office calendar featuring advertisements from local businesses, according to Captain John Sifford. The office also works annually with the National Child Safety Council, which “solicits funds from local businesses via mailings,” Sifford said. Those funds are used for educational materials for the public.
Some groups within the sheriff’s office will “raise funds for various charitable causes,” Sifford said. But those solicitations occur by word of mouth and emails to some businesses, he said.
Other tips from the FTC for giving donations wisely is to look up a charity and its ratings on websites like givestar.org or charitywatch.org. Moreover, payments are safest on credit cards and checks.
A telemarketer pressuring people to give on the spot is a warning sign, Ahmed said.
If there are problems with scams or charities not following the rules, government offices that govern charitable solicitations are all potential points of contact.
The Consumer Protection Division at the North Carolina Department of Justice is one of those offices, as it “investigates complaints related to scam calls and potential violations related to deceptive marketing, such as people representing themselves as a charity when they’re not, and other violations of state law,” Ahmed said.
It can be contacted at 1-877-NO-SCAM or ncdoj.com/complaint.
The FTC can be contacted for complaints about charity scams at FTC.gov/complaint.