Clarion Ledger, March 19, 2018

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At a time when many of us are compelled to donate, crooks see times of tragedy as a chance to rip you off. But there are a few things to remember to make sure your donation goes to the right place.

Many first-responder units are supported by charities that raise funds to help those injured in the line of duty, as well as helping family members who are left behind when a first responder dies in the line of duty. Over the past decades, charity organizations have also helped finance the purchase of needed equipment, funded counseling services and helped support first responders’ kids’ education.

But we are increasingly hearing about “charities” calling people to request donations but are really scams designed to appeal to donors’ emotions and appreciation for the work of first responders. Recently, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is also the state fire marshal, warned Mississippians about a phone scam in which callers requested donations for members of the fire service.

The state fire marshal’s office reported receiving numerous reports that someone has been calling to solicit funds for the Fallen Firefighters Association and the Mississippi Firefighters Association, as well as someone calling fire stations to seek donations for the Mississippi State Fire Academy. But, Chaney warned, it’s all a ruse.

“These organizations and the State Fire Academy do not raise funds in this manner; these calls are most often scams operating in our state,” Chaney said.

Scammers often use an emotional appeal to encourage donations and may use the name of a real organization to solicit funds. In some cases, they’ll use names that are very similar to more well-known organizations to trick you into thinking you’re supporting the better-known organization.

If you get a call like this, remember that just because someone says they’re calling on behalf of a particular organization doesn’t mean it’s true. And, Chaney added, “Do not give out any personal information via phone or email to anyone who calls you about a donation like this.”

Although a particular fund-raising organization may be legitimately soliciting funds for a local department, they often take a major part of donated funds to pay for the fund-raising, so ask how much of your donated dollar will go directly to help first responders.

And even if the solicitation sounds legitimate, you don’t have to make a decision over the phone. Ask for them to send you something in the mail and follow up with a call to your local police or fire department to verify the caller’s information and ask whether that’s the best way to help.

If you believe you’ve gotten a suspicious fund-raising call, you can report the number to the Consumer Division of the attorney general’s office at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418.

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