A would-be scammer in Rockville, MD made a bunch of phone calls asking people for money to support local firefighters.
Problem was, he called the the person in charge of fundraising at the town's volunteer fire department and made his pitch. What are the chances of that?
He immediately the caller was recognized for what he was -- a fraudster trying to play on the generosity of people who want to support those brave first-responders who risk their lives for our safety every day.
Turns out the caller was part of a nationwide scheme that's netted millions of dollars from generous donors in small increments, usually around $40, according to this story in The Washington Post.
Worst of all, the scheme doesn't appear to be illegal because organization making the calls, the Volunteer Firefighters Association, is registered as a political action committee called Heroes United PAC.
However, according to The Post, a check of the organization's PAC filings with the Federal Election Commission showed the organization collected $4.6 million nationwide during the 2018 election cycle, but only spent money for one 30-second radio ad.
The fraudsters (I'll call them that, illegal or not) use a telemarketing firm to make their calls and spoof the numbers, making it look like they're calling from a local exchange. We all get those calls and they should be illegal.
According to Eric Friedman, director of the Montgomery County, MD, Office of Consumer Protection, “The big national story seems to be that these crooks seem to register as charities. But rather than call themselves a charity, it involves less disclosure to be a PAC. You just check a few boxes on the form, just put down an address.”
It would be easy to be taken in by such calls, especially around the holidays when we're in a generous mood and when we're finishing up our charitable contributions for the year.
“These deceptive business practices are a despicable way to exploit our natural desire to financially support those who risk their lives to protect all of us,” Friedman said. His investigation found the same guys have told callers they were helping firefighters, veterans or breast cancer patients nationwide.
So what should you do when such calls come in? Know the difference between a political action committee and a charity. There's a big difference.
And to be sure, just go down to the volunteer fire station and make a contribution or support their fundraising efforts. Or go to your local charity’s pancake breakfast or crab feast, advised Guy Poirier, who is the fundraising person for the Rockville VFD.
Then you'll know exactly where your money is going.