INDIANA – The Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana is issuing a warning for consumers in Northern Indiana after several residents reported receiving letters from the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens (AFPCC) requesting donations. The charity claims to support family members of fallen police officers.
The letters are personally addressed and mailed to Allen County residents but have a return address in Titusville, Florida. The mailer comes with a donation slip and envelope to mail back funds to the Florida address, or the slip prompts consumers to fill out credit card information.
A consent judgment was filed in that case, barring the company from soliciting or receiving donations from Minnesota residents. In that case, AFPCC’s practices allegedly include: misrepresenting its primary charitable program in solicitations; using high-pressure tactics to create a false sense of urgency to elicit immediate donations; and intentionally targeting deceptive solicitations at senior citizens.
CharityNavigator.org currently has the charity listed as a half star out of 5 stars, giving it a ‘Moderate Advisory’ for the organization due to it being banned for soliciting donations in Minnesota, and numerous Police Departments across the country issuing ‘scam alert’ posts on social media warning citizens on the misleading claims.
The AFPCC raised approximately $19.2 million from donors in 2013-2017 (fiscal year ending June 30th), and over two-thirds of that $19.2 million came from for-profit, professional fundraising activity in the form of direct mail/email solicitations, according to AFPCC’s Form 990 tax filings. In the complaint, one of the main accusations against AFPCC is that the charity has misled Minnesota donors by deceptively representing in its direct mail solicitations that donations would exclusively or primarily be used for AFPCC’s “Police Family Survivors Fund” program. The Police Family Survivors Fund (the Fund) is one of AFPCC’s two main charitable programs. AFPCC describes the Fund as “a program to offer assistance to the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty;” the assistance primarily includes “Police Family Scholarships,” “Family Emergency Assistance,” and “Awards & Gifts,” based on AFPCC’s tax filings.
The Police Family Survivors Fund, however, is not the program on which AFPCC spends the majority of its funds. Instead, most of AFPCC’s program spending goes towards its other purported program, providing “education” to the “general public and members.” For example, out of AFPCC’s reported total program spending in fiscal 2017, only about 17% went to the Fund. The remaining 83% was spent on “education,” mostly consisting of “joint costs” from a combined educational campaign and fundraising solicitation, such as “inserting notes into its fundraising solicitations reminding people to have their neighbor get their newspaper when they’re away from home, water their Christmas trees, wash their hands, and the like,” according to the OAG. In prior years, AFPCC’s tax filings report that it has spent even less on the Fund, with the relative proportion at about 14% to 15% annually in fiscal 2013-2016.
The complaint alleges a number of ways in which AFPCC’s solicitations have “deceptively indicated that donations would be used solely or primarily for [Police Family Survivors] Fund programs,” rather than for public education which actually comprises the majority of its program spending. Some of the allegedly “deceptive” practices described in the complaint include: AFPCC solicitation envelopes and letterhead prominently featuring the Fund, in many instances, more so than AFPCC’s name; the Fund being the sole program mentioned in the body of numerous AFPCC solicitation appeals; mailers claiming a “funding goal” of a set amount of money for the Fund; and solicitations with enclosed contribution remittance slips that reiterated that donations were for the Fund and return envelopes that were specifically marked for the Fund. Some AFPCC mailers to potential donors in Minnesota even “falsely stated,” according to the complaint, that “100% of your gift – every penny – will immediately be used to provide Emergency Financial Assistance,” a program of the Fund. Given these and other examples in the complaint, it states: “Thus, from before a potential donor opened the envelope containing AFPCC’s solicitation, until she filled out the remittance slip to send in her donation, AFPCC fostered a deceptive and misleading overall net impression that donations would exclusively or primarily be used for the Fund.”
Use BBB’s tips to donate wisely:
Watch out for name similarities
When charities seek support for the same cause, 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.
Review the website carefully
A responsible charity will include the following facts on its website: its mission and programs, measurable goals, and concrete criteria that describe its achievements. You should also be able to find information on their finances. Keep in mind, the type of work a charity does will affect its costs.
Avoid on-the-spot donation decisions from unfamiliar organizations
Don’t succumb to pressure to make an immediate giving decision. Responsible organizations will welcome your gift tomorrow as much as they do today.
Be wary of emotional appeals
Instead of making an impulse decision based on emotion, do some research first to verify that your selected charity operates ethically.
Check with state charity officials
In many states, charities are required to register with the office of the attorney general before soliciting. Checking your state’s appropriate office is an easy way to detect if an organization is legitimate or not.
Research tax status
Don’t assume every organization claiming to do good is a tax exempt charity. Also, make sure your contribution is tax-deductible.
If you spot a scam, whether you’ve lost money or not, report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker and the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your story can help other consumers avoid similar scams.