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.
Many of us have received calls on behalf of our local police, fire, or sheriff's departments requesting a contribution. But who is actually calling? And how will you donation be spent?
In 2016, the Attorney General took action against (1) a deceptive fundraiser that was soliciting on behalf of a police organization, and (2) a deceptive charity that purported to help firefighters. These actions should serve as reminders to donors to be on the lookout for scams.
Before you give, you should be certain who is on the other end of the phone and you should educate yourself regarding how your donation will be spent. Here are some facts to assist you.
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 every $10 you give, don’t be surprised if only $1 (or less) reaches a charitable program. Also note that some police and fire organizations never solicit donations by telephone and warn consumers to beware of aggressive telemarketing by callers who falsely claim to represent them.
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 - 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. You should immediately be suspicious of any organization making such a claim. 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 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.
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.
It is illegal for the caller to 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.
It is illegal to 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.
We recommend researching your own charities using the Attorney General’s website or another charity search such as the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Guidestar, or Charity Navigator. If you do receive a phone solicitation, you can consider some of the below actions—or you can always politely hang-up.
Ask how much of your donation will ultimately be used for the 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 800-769-4515.
Be 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.”
File a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
Remember, one of the best ways for us to learn about a scam—and 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 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.
Visit the Attorney General’s office to file a complaint online send a written complaint to:Department of Attorney General
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 the Attorney General’s website or contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:Consumer Protection Division