By Tom Spalding Staff Writer March 17, 2001, Saturday, City Final Edition Copyright 2001 The Indianapolis Star The Indianapolis Star March 17, 2001, Saturday, City Final Edition
(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) -- Police say at least nine people, many of them elderly, fell victim this week to an apparent fund-raising scam operated by a company that claims to represent Indiana's "Police Assistance Association."
Investigators say no such group has links to local police organizations, and it appears to be just the latest example of con artists preying on the good intentions of people willing to help law enforcement agencies.
"They target these groups because they know if people hear 'fire' or 'police,' they are more inclined to want to help out," said Sheila Adkins, a spokeswoman with the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, Va.
"These con artists like to play on emotions -- 'Don't you want to help your police department?' -- and people, they think it's legitimate."
Phony police solicitations are common in the Indianapolis area. Since 1997, police in Marion and surrounding counties have investigated at least three other cases.
Authorities say such scams tarnish the efforts of legitimate groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 86, the Indiana State Police Alliance or the Indiana Troopers Association.
Darin Fishburn , director of marketing and fund raising for the local FOP lodge, said his organization does make year-round fund-raising calls.
Fraudulent competition, he said, "makes it difficult on the honest guy."
Indianapolis police received more than 50 complaints Friday after news reports appeared about the "Police Assistance Association" solicitations. A one-page let ter requests $15 for a crime-prevention fund.
The letter tells citizens, "Your contribution is absolutely essential, as well as very appreciated by your Police Assistance Association and your fellow neighbors. Future generations will be proud of what we have accomplished together."
The letter, with a graphic of a badge and police car, has a local mailing address -- the 100 block of West Market Street, not far from police headquarters. However, a postmark on a Feb. 15 letter is from St. Petersburg, Fla.
City Crime Watch coordinator Shirley Purvitis spent Friday advising callers not to pay the money. She asked people to bring in or mail her the paperwork so she can forward it to the Marion County prosecutor's office. Authorities are working on getting a subpoena so they can collect any money sent to the address, which actually is a postal collection box.
"This is so fresh, I would hope they won't make much money off our people," Purvitis said.
Matt Steward, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general, said the Police Assistance Association is not registered and will be investigated.
A 65-year-old woman received such a letter but didn't send in any money because she was suspicious when she couldn't find the name of the "Association" in the phone book. Then she read of the scam in The Indianapolis Star .
"I'm mad," she said, declining to give her name. "There's enough legitimate people wanting donations."
Anti-fraud advice It takes just a few extra steps to guard against charity fraud. Here are some tips suggested by police and charitable organizations:
Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group. Ask local fire and police departments to confirm if they have allowed another group to solicit funds for them.
Discard any solicitation that doesn't clearly identify the organization and its street address and phone number.
Ask phone solicitors for written information to be mailed to you confirming the group's nonprofit status.
Ignore emotional appeals or high-pressure appeals.
Ask telephone solicitors for their name and the name of their employer. Hang up if they refuse your request.
Never give a credit card number or personal information until you know who is calling you. Usually, all it takes is a quick check of the phone book for a local charity.
Contact the state attorney general if you become suspicious of a fund-raising group's tactics.