Scam artists using tragedy to make a buck

Originally published in The (Columbus, Ind.) Republic, Sept. 14, 2001

By Andy Proffet

Police expect formal charges to be filed today against a man who allegedly used Tuesday’s tragedy to scam at least one Columbus business.

Columbus Police Sgt. Gary Moody said the man went to the business Thursday night claiming to be collecting money for a relief fund for New York City firefighters.

Moody said the man was not arrested because the crimes he was accused of committing were misdemeanors.

Moody said, however, that the prosecutor’s office intends to file formal charges against the man.

Prosecutors will receive the police report today and statements from complainants in the next few days, Moody said.

Moody and Columbus Fire Department public information officer Matt Noblitt stressed that citizens should be careful to whom they donate money.

“We’ve got to get some awareness out there,” Moody said. “People are thinking with their heart instead of their mind.”

Noblitt stressed that his department is collecting donations only for the International Association of Firefighters fund.

That fund is collecting donations to help the survivors of emergency responders in New York City who were missing or killed in the wake of the World Trade Center collapse.

Donations to the IAFF fund can be dropped off at any Columbus Fire Department station.

Thursday night’s incident came the same day that Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter and the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau issued warning to Hoosiers about scam artists trying to profit from Tuesday’s tragedy.

Carter reminded Hoosiers to be wary of solicitors who can’t back up their request with written information or a phone number.

To report a suspicious solicitor, call the Attorney General’s office at (800) 382-5516.

Central Indiana Better Business Bureau offered the following tips:

  • Do not be pressured into giving an on-the-spot donation.
  • Find out how your donation will be used. Even new organizations should have written material available to donors.
  • Never provide a credit card or checking account number to unknown phone callers or Internet solicitors who claim to be raising money for disaster victims.
  • Look at the organization’s name carefully. Some groups will use names similar to larger charities.
  • Some groups may be raising funds to donate to existing relief groups. If so, you may want to consider sending your donation directly to the relief group.
  • If items are being sold to raise money to benefit a disaster relief charity, contact that charity directly to confirm such arrangements.
  • Confirm with charities that there is a need for goods. Ask what arrangements are in place to get the goods to the victims.
  • These tips are applicable to firefighter and police groups as well.

More information is available from the Better Business Bureau by calling (317) 488-2222 or online at