Following the tragedy involving the death of Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Proxmire, many in the surrounding communities are looking for ways to help the Proxmire family and the department. With so many groups offering assistance, it can be difficult to know which ones will have a direct benefit. There are some questionable efforts that will seek to take advantage of those looking to give.

"Just because a charity name or description sounds like it will help a cause you support, that doesn’t mean that is what they really do,” says Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “We have identified some charities that have sympathetic names, but where 5% or less of the money spent goes to programming. Instead, more than 90% of their money goes to fundraising. That doesn’t end up helping the families in need.”

To help spot red flags, The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan(BBB®) and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance offer the following tips:

Watch out for misleading police organization names. The words “police,” “law enforcement,” “trooper” and/or “sheriff” in the name of the organization does not mean that any members of your local police force are involved, and the organization may have no activities in your area other than raising funds.

Understand where the money is really going. Just because the name makes it sound like the money will go to families, doesn’t always mean it will. Often, most of the money goes to advocacy or political groups, which spend their money on lobbying for change, or education, instead of directly into the hands of the family.

Give locally. Contact your local law enforcement agency and ask how you can support them. Most agencies have a non-profit “Friends of” type organization or will be happy to refer you to a more worthwhile option.

Crowdfunding cautions. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do not do much vetting of posted requests for funds. While some families of fallen officers may decide to set up their own assistance funds, be aware that such funds may not be set up as charities. As a result, the contributions may not be deductible as charitable gifts for federal income tax purposes. If you do choose to give, make sure you are giving to a campaign that is connected to the family or group you are looking to support.

Consider a BBB Accredited Charity instead. A charity must prove they spend a minimum of 65% of their expenses on programming in order to be accredited. This standard is to assure donors that the majority of the charity’s activities directly impact those they claim to help. Many organizations with names invoking law enforcement spend most of their money on fundraising, and little on the actually stated programming mission.

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Visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website, Give.org for more information on charitable giving.

If you’ve been the victim of a charity scam, help others avoid the same fate by reporting your experience at BBB.org/scamtracker

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