MARTIN COUNTY, FL – Your phone rings and you look at the screen. You do not recognize the number, but you answer it anyway.
On the other end of the line is a voice letting you know that your car warranty is about to expire, that they have a pending legal matter in their office, or that you have been selected to receive free solar panels at your home or place of business.
We spend obscene amounts of time dodging these money scammers. They start calling at 8 am and typically do not stop until close to 9 pm. But at least we don’t have to answer, and we do not have to face them.
We get in our cars and head home.
For at least one Florida county, the scams are leaving phone calls behind and going out into the streets, according to The Free Press.
“Now, we are asking everyone to be aware of a different type of scam we are seeing sweep through Martin County and across the State of Florida,” said Martin County Sheriff’s Office.
“You may have seen them at various intersections throughout Martin County, holding signs stating they are ‘raising money’ for a child battling cancer, wearing hats and t-shirts that support the child.”
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to a potential issue at the corner of SE Federal Highway and SE Indian Street. Motorists were calling to complain that there were people in traffic, soliciting donations.
The MCSO Community Policing Unit went to investigate and made contact with the people callers were identifying.
They were wearing t-shirts and hats with the name Emilia. They were holding signs with a little girl’s picture that includes the words:
“EMILIA-DIAGNOSED-WITH-BRAIN-CANCER-4-YEARS-OLD-YOUR-HELP-CAN-SAVE-LIFE-OF-EMILIA GOD BLESS”
Just terrible-Martin County Sheriff's Office released images of people, who they say, are posing as loved ones raising money for Emilia who has brain cancer. Officials said they were on SE Federal Hwy and SE Indian St. soliciting money. @WPBF25News
Courtesy: MCSO pic.twitter.com/4APl9Isql1
— Sooji Nam (@WPBF_Sooji) July 28, 2022
Turns out, there really is a little girl named Emilia that is battling cancer and has a Facebook page for people to follow her fight.
These “fundraisers” in Stuart, Florida are just actually associated with the young girl fighting for her life. The money they are raising is going directly into their own pockets.
“There is in fact a child named Emilia who is battling cancer and has a Facebook page to allow loved ones and friends to follow her battle and recovery.
These individuals tried to capitalize on this young girl battling cancer, only to raise money for their own pockets.
The posters, hats and t-shirts used in this scam were only made in an effort to solicit more money by tugging on the heartstrings of our compassionate citizens,” an MCSO spokesperson said.
The Sheriff’s Office said that they were only able to trespass the group from the intersection. They pointed out that their actions were certainly unethical, they didn’t actually violate any Florida State Statutes and therefore could not be criminally charged.
One could certainly argue that the group was committing fraud with their con game.
At Law Enforcement Today, we echo the sentiment of The Free Press who said to be diligent in researching charitable causes to donate money to.
It goes beyond simple affiliation and reputability. You should also find out how much of your donation is actually being used to assist the individuals in need versus paying salaries and covering operating expenses.
We have seen numerous organizations operating under the guise of law enforcement friendly charitable organizations, but when you peel back the layers, you find that they are actually doing very little to support and aid the law enforcement communities they claim to be serving.
There are those out there who seek to profit off other’s kindness and generosity. Be vigilant and cautious.
Source: Company selling shirts in memory of fallen officers, lying about donating to charity
There were 134 officers, deputies and agents killed in the line of duty in 2019. An additional 228 law enforcement officials died by their own hand. For every one of those 134 LODDs, there is a story.
At the other end of that story is a family missing someone who went to work one day and did not come back. They struggle to adapt to the new normal, which will undoubtedly never be easy.
Every one of those 134 men and women died working to serve their communities and protect the innocent. On one hand, there are many organizations that seek to assist these families in their darkest hour.
And then there are those who seek to profit from their pain and the sacrifice of the officers themselves.
There is a special place in hell for these kinds of people.
After receiving a tip from a member of the Blue Family, Law Enforcement Today began to investigate two such companies – Blue Lives Collection and Blue Line Brave.
And they seem to have a couple of things in common beyond the number of followers, which are 31,186 and 21,564, respectively.
They each advertise law enforcement themed products. A quick glance through their posts would lead you to believe that perhaps a retired officer or member of the community who loved police and what they stand for was running the page in support.
But when looking closer, we see something darker. Each company seems to use names of departments and officers to create memorabilia products to sell without getting the permission of said departments, officers or their families.
When looking into their admin settings, it became clear that their Facebook pages are being managed by people outside of the US. Brave is managed by nine individuals in Vietnam and has changed names four times since its creation in 2015. Collection is managed by four people based in India.
Another major red flag? None of them have a real website. They only operate on Facebook and use a third party vendor service to sling merchandise. Each of their product links goes to a different website. One goes to the Thin Line Shirt page via teespring.com. The other goes to a site that has minimal offerings.
Lastly, neither of them has good reviews. A telltale sign that something is up.
We were first alerted to the situation when someone was served up a Facebook ad blatantly using the names of officers killed in 2019 with a cheery message about how it was the “perfect gift” for the new year.
Blue Lives Collection is selling a shirt for $24.95 that bears the names of all 134 LEOs killed in 2019. Law Enforcement Today spoke with the family of one of the fallen officers whose name is on that shirt. They confirmed that they were not contacted by the company to ask permission for the use of the names and did not offer to contribute any of the proceeds to the families or other charity organizations.
In fact, social media users who commented on the posts wondering about where the money was going or if proceeds were benefitting the family were either ignored or in some cases, had their comments deleted.
Ironically, none of the shirts that they advertise on their Facebook page show up in the available options on the website.
The group ran 25 different iterations of the ad for this shirt. Each of the names appear in the order that they lost their lives. It also appears that the details match verbatim with the details that are shown on the Officer Down Memorial Page website.
Back in May of 2018, they ran ads saying that every shirt sold would result in money be contributed to a “police charity,” but no specific charity was listed. Their most recent ads do not have that disclaimer.
Blue Lives Brave is pedaling shirts and other products that are specific to agencies by name. Some of those named are San Diego, Phoenix and Philadelphia PDs, Maryland State Trooper and a wall hanging for the Tulsa PD.
Ironically, each is the same picture with a photoshopped patch for each department replacing the ‘O’ in the word HOME.
In another interesting twist, many of their product postings had numerous comments that are inaccessible. It is easy to assert that the page managers deleted the negative comments considering that when there are post saying there are 30 comments, but only 8 are available.
We reached out to each group but did not receive a response. In fact, Blue Lives Collections went so far as to mute the conversation so that we could not continue asking questions. As the screen shot shows, they are online, but they are “unavailable right now.”
If someone can provide evidence that these guys are legit and they truly do support law enforcement and aren’t trying to profit off of the sacrifice of fallen officers and the pain of their families, I will be the first to apologize.
But, for some reason, I have a feeling that’s not going to happen.
There’s a special place for these people.
Sadly, these two events aren’t the only two that we have encountered recently.
Your phone rings. You answer to hear a voice asking for a contribution to the National Police Support Fund. The caller tells you about how the organization is “dedicated to promoting the interests of law enforcement officers.”
He also tells you the group is a nonprofit but may or may not quickly mention it’s a “527 nonprofit.”
The group is a real nonprofit organization, but it is a political group created “primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office.”
The person on the other end of your phone doesn’t tell you that. He also doesn’t tell you that none of the donations collected actually go to financially support local law enforcement.
If you ask him about the difference between the 527 and 501 nonprofit statuses, or how much of their donations go to local law enforcement, he will tell you to call 866-487-4515.
If you call the number, you will be connected with an answering service. The problem with that is the person answering the phone can’t or won’t answer any questions concerning the political aspect.
The group’s website clearly states that it is:
“A grassroots political organization that is committed to aligning the interests and needs of police officers with the public’s issues and concerns within the national political process.”
But that’s the group’s website says about itself. What do other people say?
Consumer protection groups, such as the Better Business Bureau, urge caution about donating to the fund, “due to its lack of transparency.”
In fact, there are numerous reviews and complaints regarding the NPSF on both the BBB and consumer review sites such as Yelp.
While Yelp is not necessarily the final authority on a group’s legitimacy, Simon Lewis, NPSF President felt the reviews warranted a response.
One complaint said: If anyone calls you from this organization, hang up!! I was suspicious of the call from the very beginning. The man wanted me to pledge a large $ donation. He started asking for credit card information.
When I refused to give him the credit information, he became irritated and transferred my call to another man. This man also tried to get my credit card information, but I refused.
I told him to send me something in the mail. Upon receiving a “form letter” with no individual signing the letter, I decided to research this organization. COMPLETE SCAM!!! They have been contacted by the BBB and have not cooperated. Everything I have found on this organization is negative!
Lewis responded: “We are sorry you had a negative experience with our fundraiser on the phone! We would like to look into this matter further, but we would need some additional information from you so we can see who called you and when so we can investigate it more in depth.
Would you be willing to send us an email at [email protected]so we can we learn more about your experience?
As for the BBB, we know there are some articles out there that misrepresent our relationship with them. We are currently working on being BBB certified and we are almost finished with the accreditation process. You can see our current B+ rating.”
Ah…that amazing B+ rating from the BBB. Here is what they aren’t telling you.
NPSF is not the ones making the calls. They are using other telemarketing firms, such as Residential Programs, Incorporated, who currently sport an ‘F’ rating from the BBB.
Others they use are The Fundraising Group, Grassroots Fund Group, LLC, and United Support LLC. NPSF paid those four groups $1,863,361 in 2018, to do their fundraising for them.
In fact, they use them for just about everything they need except banking, legal services and travel.
In just the 3rd quarter of 2018, NPSF spent over $422,000 dollars to Residential Programs for services that include carrier minutes and dialer expenses, consumer data, postage and freight, tele-fundraising, technology services, direct mail fundraising, caging and escrow and other professional fees.
The forms available on the IRS website reveal that the 3rd quarter is indicative of other quarters that they have filed since their 2017 inception. They reported contributions in the amount of $703,307. Their expenditures, according to that Form 8872? $708,206.
Their 2nd quarter filing showed that they spent $1,014,037 with only $972,145 coming in. In this quarter, they contributed $968,951 to themselves.
Their 4th quarter filing showed that they spent $782,959 while bringing in $777,184. In this quarter, they contributed $772,716 to themselves.
What did they spend all their money on? Bills.
Oh, they also don’t mention on the phone that the bulk of their contributions came from…wait for it…
Of the $703K in contributions for that quarter, $689,730 of it came from the fund itself.
As all contributors are required to list their address, occupation and employer.
The contributor in question lists an address of 2331 Mill Road, Suite 100, Alexandria, VA. Ironically, that is the same address of the group filing the 8872, NPSF.
The Form 990 that the Fund filed for 2018 show that they received $2,036,625 in revenue, and $1,957,616 in expenditures.
That leaves a total revenue of $79,009. Yet not a single document reveals that they spent a single dime on law enforcement groups or lobbying on behalf of the men and women in uniform at the local, state or federal levels.
Every penny they have spent are itemized as operating expenses.
Are you starting to see a pattern develop here?
The only quarter they were in the black was Q1 of 2018, netting $10,561, which they managed to lose over the next three reporting periods.
Furthermore, charity watchdogs say that a legitimate group will donate or contribute 65% of its funding to the cause it supports.
So, even if NPSF gave all $79,009 that it claimed as income for 2018 to law enforcement charities or actually spent it lobbying in favor of the men and women who strive to keep us safe, they would only be 3.87%, which is roughly 5% of what they bring in.
The reality is, they give 0% while claiming to support law enforcement and advancing their causes.
Hard to imagine them doing that when they don’t spend a penny to do what they say they are going to do.
So, if your phone rings, and the person on the other end says they are with the National Police Support Fund…hang up. Anything else is a waste of your time and possibly your money.
Unfortunately, these people are not the only ones who are taking advantage of the soft spot some people have for our law enforcement community.
LET has a private home for those who support emergency responders and veterans called LET Unity. We reinvest the proceeds into sharing untold stories of those patriotic Americans. Click to check it out.
Do your homework when deciding who to contribute to.
For example, Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) has the highest rating on all of the watchdog groups. We know because we checked when deciding which non-profits that support law enforcement and survivors that we as an organization support.
Police officers and their families most definitely need and deserve to be supported when tragedy strikes. Let’s just make sure we are contributing to the correct sources to make that happen.
*Note – the above report is strictly investigative. Neither of the companies named within have provided commentary on the situation.
Want to make sure you never miss a story from Law Enforcement Today? With so much “stuff” happening in the world on social media, it’s easy for things to get lost.
Make sure you click “following” and then click “see first” so you don’t miss a thing! (See image below.) Thanks for being a part of the LET family!