Charities Worry About Being Confused With "Cops For Kids"

(Photo by Larry W. Smith / Getty)

(Cleveland) - In recent days, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against Ashtabula-based charity "Cops For Kids," alleging the charity raised millions of dollars from phone solicitations but only spent about 80-cents on charitable purposes out of every $100 they raised.  The rest went to lavish salaries and "overhead," according to DeWine.

Now, legitimate charities like Cops And Kids and Coats For Kids say they're being confused with the fraudulent charity, and it couldn't come at a worse time.  "This telephone solicitor was using the name Cops For Kids," said Ohio Fraternal Order of Police President Jay McDonald.  "There's no doubt in my mind that their choice of name was intentional, to confuse law-abiding citizens who wanted to donate to the legitimate charity Cops And Kids, and their local FOP lodges."

The confusion may cause people to stop donating to the legitimate charity Cops And Kids, and McDonald said it couldn't come at a worse time.  "We take those dollars and use it to provide shopping sprees for kids at Christmas time who might not otherwise be able to experience the joy of a Christmas morning.  It puts coats on the back of kids, and gloves on their hands.  It puts school supplies in the backpacks of kids."

Coats For Kids, a charity that provides new coats for children in Northeast Ohio, also released a statement about the confusion.  

Coats for Kids - Cleveland is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization with the mission of providing new or like-new winter coats to needy children (ages 0-18) in northeast Ohio. Coats for Kids is not affiliated with any other non-profit charitable organizations.

Debbie Martinko, Executive Director, Coats for Kids - Cleveland

McDonald said you should call your local FOP lodge if you have any questions about supposed police-affiliated charities soliciting you on the phone.

Attorney General DeWine also provided the following information:

Charities and donors can use this page to search for a charity. The resulting information will indicate whether the organization is registered and current and can be printed as verification of registration.

Learning about an organization and its activities can help donors make wise giving decisions. In addition to checking whether an organization is current with its registration requirements with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, other good sources of information include:

 The IRS’s Exempt Organizations Selection Check can be used to verify if an organization has a valid 501(c)(3) or other tax-exempt designation. The IRS also lists organizations that have had their tax exempt status revoked.

 Private watchdog organizations often review data and reports on organizations and may grade them based on various spending standards and other procedures. Some of those groups are CharityWatch, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. Your local Better Business Bureau may also be a resource and can be identified through the Wise Giving Alliance link above.

 The organization’s IRS Form 990 return can be viewed on Guidestar. A free registration process is required to access the reports. The 990 will include information on how the group raises and uses its funds, and other operational details about the group. Important details to pay attention to include what percent of expenditures are used on program expenses rather than management and fundraising expenses. Descriptions of programs and expenses are often revealing, as well as reported information about travel and compensation levels. Self-dealing transactions between the charity and one or more of its directors should also be examined.

 Internet searches can often reveal useful information about accomplishments of the organization, or information about questionable activities

 The organization’s written and web-based materials can also be an important source of information.

 If you wish to view additional information about a charity provided by the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), you can search for the organization on the NCCS's website. You can look up the charity by using details such as name, EIN, location, organization type, etc.

If you need additional information about a charity or want to file a complaint about a questionable organization, call the Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or file a complaint online.

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