Just because it sounds like an official charity on the other end of the phone doesn’t mean that it is.
That’s true even if it’s something that tugs at the heartstrings like a charity that benefits soldiers and first responders who were injured while on the job.
Several Manteca residents have reported receiving calls this week from The Disabled Police and Sherriff’s Foundation – which a quick Google search revealed as “one of America’s worst charities” according to a scathing write-up in the Tampa Bay Times.
According to the article, the group raised more than $3.6 million in 2011, but actually distributed less than $65,000 to those that they claim to be helping through their efforts.
While Manteca Police Department Sergeant Jodie Estarziau said she wasn’t familiar with that particular charity, she urged people in the community caution when they’re approached with any sort of telephone solicitation for something that they’re not intimately familiar with – urging them to exercise their charitable nature with organizations that are closer to home that they can actually follow up with.
“The thing that I always recommend to my parents is to donate locally,” Estarziau said. “You can actually ask them ‘what are you going to use this money for?’ A lot of times they’ll tell you very specifically where they are going to use your money whether it’s for a new playground or new books for the school.
“And it makes a difference if you find out the tax exempt status of the organization, because there are times that people donate expecting to be able to write it off and find out later that they’re not able to.”
And while the Disabled Police Sherriff’s Foundation sets itself up like a legitimate charity, there are still a number of active scams that catch people up – most recently, and probably most publicly, are the teams that call up claiming to be from the IRS and threatening arrest if money is not paid immediately to rectify the situation.
Estarziau said that she herself received one of those phone calls, and knows from her years in law enforcement that the IRS never uses local police departments to go after those they suspect of cheating their taxes.
“The problem is that they come across as legitimate, and they make threats saying that you’re delinquent and you owe them money and they want you to send it to them on a prepaid debit card or a money order,” she said. “And technology has made this scam better and better every year – if you call the number back, they’ll often say that they’re going to transfer you to another line and what ends up happening is that they just send you to another iPhone of somebody nearby.”
Estarziau recommends that people never send money over the phone or reveal any personal information like Social Security numbers or credit card numbers regardless of how legitimate the call may be. The best bet, she said, is to hang up on them, and unless they’re a registered non-profit, they must legally comply if asked not to call back.