Attorney General Miller alleges consumer fraud in mailings that exaggerate the charity's connection to Iowa
(DES MOINES, Iowa)
Today Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced a settlement barring the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP), of Titusville, Florida, and two principals, Barry Shepherd and Brent Shepherd, from continuing to mail donation appeals to Iowans that are alleged to violate the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. The settlement, called an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, contains a 5-year ban on any Iowa fundraising by NACOP or by the Shepherds in the name of any other law enforcement-related charity, and a permanent ban on any misleading donation requests.
“We allege that NACOP’s mailings gave the false impression that the charity had a big local presence in each Iowa county, providing vital support to disabled officers who had nowhere else to turn,” Miller said. “That makes for an effective fundraising appeal, but wasn’t supported by the facts.”
According to Miller, the Consumer Protection Division (CPD) began investigating when an Iowan sent in a copy of a NACOP solicitation letter earlier this year. The Indianola resident was suspicious of the claimed connections to Warren County, and asked the Attorney General to “please check this out.”
The CPD’s investigation brought to light the following alleged consumer fraud violations:
- The letter claimed to be part of a “Warren County Annual Fund Drive” to help paralyzed and disabled police officers. But contrary to the once-a-year nature of an annual fund drive, NACOP sent a continuous stream of similar solicitations into Iowa. “It wasn’t really a ‘drive,’ and it certainly wasn’t 'annual,'" Miller said.
- Despite the one-time-contribution focus of the letter, anyone who sent back a donation would get as many as 11 more NACOP solicitations that same year. Worse, NACOP would rent out donors’ names to other solicitors, an important fact that was not disclosed in the mailings.
- The letter claimed that a fundraising goal “for your county” had been set in a specific dollar amount, as if NACOP’s efforts and impact were truly local. But a close reading revealed that the goal had nothing to do with Warren County resources or needs. Every county in Iowa and elsewhere had the same fundraising goal.
- The letter insinuates that NACOP would provide badly needed support to disabled officers locally. But even though NACOP has been soliciting donations in all 99 Iowa counties, most counties received nothing in 2017. NACOP’s total Iowa effort that year consisted of sending Christmas cards or Mother’s/Father’s Day cards to the households of 10 disabled Iowa officers, at a total cost of $165. By contrast, NACOP received at least $845 from Iowans in response to just one of its many mailings -- more than five times what NACOP spent on Iowa in all of 2017.
“There are few causes more deserving than helping injured law enforcement personnel in need,” Miller said. “But the fact that the cause is so worthy means that it strikes a chord with generous Iowans, and may be ripe for exploitation. Donors need to make sure their contributions go where they will be sure to make a difference.”
The agreement requires NACOP to make refunds to any Iowan who requests one within the next six months, and so Miller urged any Iowa donors wanting a refund to contact the Consumer Protection Division. The agreement also requires NACOP to pay $5000 for enforcement of Iowa’s consumer fraud laws, and notes that NACOP and the Shepherds do not admit any wrongdoing.
- With charitable appeals, don’t be fooled by a sympathetic name. Many causes clearly deserve generous public support, including veterans, law enforcement, fire fighters, and the fight against disease, but there is a history of questionable operations that claim to support such efforts but do relatively little.
- Fundraisers know that many donors like to give to charitable efforts focused on the donor’s own community. Beware of appeals that exaggerate the local impact.
- Don’t act on impulse to donate before you have checked out a worthy-sounding organization. Charities can be checked out at the national Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving” site – www.give.org.
- Give wisely! Giving to a charity you know and trust is often the best option.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General's website, by email or by phone:
Phone: 515-281-5926 (outside the Des Moines area, call toll-free: 888-777-4590)