Nonprofit officials warn of scam


GREENFIELD — The phone calls came about once a week before Patric McClarnon finally gave in. 

With each buzz on his phone, the caller, claiming to be with a local charity, would ask that he leave anything he could spare — food, furniture or other items — out on his front porch to be collected for the needy.

After about a month of being pestered, McClarnon set out a bag of clothes, which was carted away the next day.

He then phoned Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), the local organization he thought was behind the campaign, to express concerns about the bothersome calls — only to learn Love INC doesn’t solicit donations over the phone, and no one in the Greenfield office knew about his donation.

Now, local nonprofit leaders are warning Good Samaritans that such phone calls soliciting donations for local ministries are deceitful.

Officials say they can’t confirm where the goods, like the clothing left on McClarnon’s front porch, have been taken. Meanwhile, police are reminding donors to use caution, as inviting a stranger to come onto your property is unsafe, they say.

County residents have reported receiving phone calls in recent weeks from people claiming to work with local religious organizations seeking food, clothing, appliances, furniture and other items. The caller usually requests the donations be left near the front door of the resident’s home, saying a representative will be by to pick up the donations and take them to local church or a needy family.

Jim Peters, executive director of Love INC, said he’s heard complaints from dozens of residents about the calls.

Each says the solicitor called from an Atlanta number but led residents to believe they were a representative from Love INC, Peters said.

Love INC oversees a network of churches that provide resources to Hancock County families in need, but its employees do not make phone calls soliciting donations, Peters said.

Love INC’s leaders have not been able to confirm that the donations were brought to churches in Hancock County or to local needy families as the callers claim, he said.

Some residents reported being sent to a website for more information; the site lists “Hope House” (Hancock Hope is based in Greenfield) as the only Indiana nonprofit it benefits. The local homeless shelter has not had any contact with an organization outside the state or received donations from it, said Carl Denny, the executive director of Hancock Hope House.

“That’s extremely disappointing,” Denny said.

And dangerous, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester added.

Leaving property out on the front porch invites thieves to come by and steal it, Jester said. A better practice is to call an organization directly to arrange for a pick-up and be on site to watch as the goods are hauled away, he said.

Nonprofit officials also encourage residents to do research before making donations to an organization and to question solicitors for the more information before agreeing to give.

Stephen Burt, Love INC board member, received one the phone calls recently. When he pressed the voice on the other end of the line for more information about where the donation would be taken, the call was disconnected, he said.

Many of complaints Love INC has fielded so far came from people frustrated by number of calls they’ve received and others who were angry things were taken from their yards that were not meant to be donated, Burt said. He worries what sort of impact the calls could have on donations to the legitimate nonprofits dedicated to serving Hancock County.

Those hoping to give to Love INC ministry or the Hancock Hope House should contact their offices directly to make their donation, officials said.

McClarnon said he was disappointed to hear he might have fallen for a scam; he’s eager to help those in need, but doesn’t like to feel taken advantage of by a stranger, he said.

“Be careful,” he said as a warning to others, “because you may not actually know who it is.”

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Local police and nonprofit officials offer these tips to make sure your donations to charity make their way into the right hands:

Double check: If you doubt a caller is from the organization they claim to represent, offer to call back later. Look up a number you know is reliable for the organization and call directly to double check the solicitation is legitimate.

Make contact: If you’re planning to make a donation, make direct contact with the organization. Find out how officials there prefer donations to be made. If they offer pick-up, wait until they arrive to bring your items outside.

Be careful: Never give out financial information over the phone to an unknown caller.