Police And Fire Solicitations... What You Should Know
The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
Police and Fire Solicitations -
What You Should Know
We've all received calls from members of our local police, fire, or sheriff's departments requesting a contribution. Or have we......?
Consider this example - the Michigan Sheriffs' Association never solicits donations by telephone and warns consumers to beware of aggressive telemarketing by callers who falsely claim to represent sheriffs.
The moral? We all want to support our police officers and firefighters who risk their lives to make our communities safer - but in order to make sure your contribution will be used for the right purposes - know before you give.
FACT - Most public safety organizations are not charitable.
Most of them are trade organizations, labor unions or lobbying groups. Even if
they tell you about charitable causes they support, your donation may not be
used for any charitable activities. In addition, because most public safety
groups are not 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, contributions are likely not
deductible on your income taxes.
FACT - The person who telephoned you requesting a contribution was likely not a member of your local police or fire department. Almost all solicitation by telephone is done by for-profit, professional fundraisers, who sometimes keep as much as 90% of your contribution as compensation. In other words, for $100 to be given to the organization after the fundraiser's fee, you may have to contribute $1000.
FACT - Some professional fundraisers have been known to imply that you will be better protected if you make a donation. For example, you may be told that emergency police or fire response to your house will be faster. The truth is that contributions to these organizations - or their fundraisers - will have no effect on the level of protection police and fire departments provide.
FACT - Some fundraisers may use deceptive tactics to induce you to
make a donation. If you receive a bill for an unfamiliar pledge (promise to
donate) you don't recall making, there's a good chance you never made such a
promise - you may merely have requested written information about the
organization. Or an unethical telemarketer may thank you for previous
donations, even if you never made any.
What you should know
Michigan law provides the following protections:
- Public safety organizations and their professional fundraisers must register with the Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section before soliciting.
- All telephone solicitations made by public safety organizations and their professional fundraisers must be recorded and kept for 60 days.
- The caller cannot legally tell you that you will receive special benefits or treatment if you make a pledge, or that you will receive unfavorable treatment if you do not pledge.
- You cannot legally be billed for pledges you did not make.
- The caller must tell you whether he or she is employed by a professional fundraising organization rather than a police department, sheriff's office or fire department.
What you should do
- Ask how much of your donation will ultimately be used in the charitable program the caller is describing, as well as how much of that amount will be used at the local, statewide, or national levels.
- Get information in writing before promising to give. Sometimes, callers refuse to send information unless you first make a pledge (usually citing mailing costs as the reason). Consider carefully before supporting an organization that is unwilling to give you time to examine written material or look into the organization before you donate.
- Check with your local police or fire department to see if they are actually receiving any benefits claimed by the solicitor.
- Check with the Attorney General Charitable Trust Section to see if the public safety organization is registered. The toll-free line for checking on public safety organizations is 1(800) 769-4515.
careful with your personal information. Giving credit card numbers or bank
account information over the phone to unfamiliar callers can be dangerous -
avoid becoming a victim of ID theft by protecting your personal information.
See the Attorney General's Consumer Alert, "Telemarketing Fraud - Never Give Personal Information to Unknown Callers," available online at http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337_20942-252790--,00.html
- File a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
Remember, the only way we will know about a scam and can take action is if you
file a complaint.
If you believe that you have been misled or lied to, or if you have received a
bill for a pledge you did not make, you are welcome to file a complaint with the
Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section. If you report a suspicious call
promptly, the Charitable Trust Section may obtain a copy of the recorded
solicitation to determine if formal action should be taken.
Send a detailed description of your complaint along with any materials you received from the organization or call 1(800) 769-4515. Your name and contact information are helpful, but not necessary. Please include the date you received the phone call or the solicitation material.
You may visit to file a complaint online (click on "File A Complaint" in the left frame) or send a written complaint to:
Department of Attorney General
Charitable Trust Section
PO Box 30214
Lansing, MI 48909
You may also call the Attorney General's Public Safety Information Line, toll-free, at (800) 769-4515.
For information on a variety of issues affecting consumers, visit www.michigan.gov/ag or contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 1-877-765-8388