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Phony Firefighters Scam

The scenario is all too familiar. Just as you sit down to dinner, the phone rings and the caller asks for a donation. The cause sounds worthy: Please support your local firefighters (or police officers), the caller implores. And soon, you say, sure, why not?

Not so fast. That well-intentioned donation could miss its target––by a lot. Chances are the caller is not an off-duty cop but a paid solicitor or even a crook pretending to be affiliated with firefighters or police.  Much of your donation, or even all of it, could end up in the caller’s pocket rather than helping those responsible for your neighborhood’s public safety.

So, what should you do when you get a call asking for a donation to a cause you care about? “Give with your mind as well as your heart,” warns Hugh Jones, president of the National Association of State Charity Officials. Don’t agree to shell out over the phone. If the caller is pressuring you, don’t give in.

Instead, find out the caller’s name and the name of the organization he or she represents. Ask to have information about the organization mailed to you. And ask how much of your donation will go directly to the charity, says Frank Dorman, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission. If you decide to donate, write a check so you’ll have a record of the transaction.

The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center says beware of organizations with names that are similar to legitimate groups. And be suspicious of callers who offer to come to your home to pick up your contribution—legitimate charities don’t do that.

Remember, Dorman says, you can always hang up and call the organization directly. That way, you know every penny is going to your local firefighters or police, not to the guy who interrupted your dinner.