TYLER, Texas – They believe they're supporting the people who keep them safe, but they're being taken advantage of.
"People who have a heart of giving who want to give and are like 'hey we need to support law enforcement' and it's just manipulation," said Ben Fenton, who experienced it himself.
On October 11, Fenton got a call from a San Antonio phone number. The man on the phone said he was from the San Antonio Police Department's Recruiting Office and he was asking for donations.
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"They said well you can do our minimum donation of $15 and I thought it was really weird that the gentleman kept prompting me, and the more I thought about it I said, 'Why are the cops calling me for money?'"
The strangest part was that he's from Tyler, Texas which is five hours north east of San Antonio. So when he hung up he called SAPD.
"They transferred me to the recruitment office and they told me, 'no we're not presently doing any drives and especially not in your area, that's obviously a scam.' I was like 'thank you,' I'm glad to have that confirmed," Fenton said.
When KSAT called SAPD to confirm this, they said the same thing: they will never call citizens for donations.
Since January 1, people across Texas have reported 24 of these "charity scams" to the Better Business Bureau. That means someone is falsely raising money for a charity or organization they're not a part of. Six of those cases were from the south central region that includes San Antonio. In three of those cases, the scammers were claiming to be law enforcement.
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"Just impersonating an officer is a crime in itself, in addition to feeling manipulated a little bit, but thankfully I wasn't," Fenton said.
So far this year Texans have lost a total of $800 to this scam.
Anyone who believes they're on the phone with a scammer should hang up and check with the organization or agency the person says they're calling from. If that agency confirms they're not asking for money, report it to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission.
Many times scammers use times of tragedy and devastation to take advantage of others who are looking to help. In recent disasters, like Hurricane Harvey and the Las Vegas shooting, the BBB is reminding people that scammers are looking to make emotional pleas of support, many times contacting people via telephone or social media. Even locally, when the South Texas community suffered the loss of several officers and first responders, there were reports of false crowdfunding efforts.
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The regional BBB spokesman said this serves as an unfortunate reminder that not all scammers are behind a computer screen in an unfamiliar country; there are scammers that live in local communities, watch local news stories and know what’s happening in local neighborhoods. No matter how convincing someone on the phone or online may be, always take the extra time to ensure you’re dealing with someone legitimate.
Especially when you’re looking to support a charitable cause the BBB leaves these tips:
- Ask questions. How are you affiliated with this cause or family? How will the funds be used and distributed? Are you a registered charity? Is there a website I can find more information on?
- Watch out for name similarities. Scammers often name their “charities” something that sounds like a well-recognized organization, or their names are often similar. Before you give, be sure you have the exact name of the charity to avoid a case of mistaken identity.
- Avoid on-the-spot donation decisions from unfamiliar organizations. Don’t succumb to pressure to make an immediate giving decision. Responsible organizations will provide you with the requested information and will welcome your gift tomorrow as much as they do today.
- Be wary of emotional appeals. Marketers have been known to exploit holidays, tragedies and anything else that pulls the heartstrings to make pleas to donors. Always research to verify that your selected charity operates ethically.