Phony solicitors mistakenly call charity's supervisor

September 08, 1997|By Carolyn Melago | Carolyn Melago,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Rev. Bill Hayman was puzzled last month when a man called his office claiming to represent the Coalition for Compassion, requesting donations for a needy woman. That's because Hayman is a supervisor for the Coalition for Compassion, a group that distributes money to Howard County residents who can't pay utility, rent or prescription-drug bills.

"He told me he was calling for the Coalition for Compassion, which I thought was awfully strange," said Hayman, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Living Word in Columbia.

"I tried not to respond to him because I didn't know what was happening," he said.

Since then, reports have been made of phony solicitors calling several churches in Columbia, requesting emergency help for someone in the community.

Now, Hayman and volunteers from the 25 other congregations that make up the 8-year-old eviction assistance coalition want to warn others about the bogus callers.

"We tried to get the message out that they were preying on churches first," Hayman said. "They were using the name of the coalition, and claiming to help an individual when they weren't."

When Hayman became suspicious of that initial call Aug. 20, he and other volunteers in his office stalled to keep the man, who called himself "Mr. Ames," on the telephone while Hayman notified police.

"We set up to have [Mr. Ames] come and pick up this money," Hayman said.

But he never showed. Hayman said the caller either sensed that the office members didn't trust him or saw the police car outside.

The next day, another phone call from a purported coalition member -- this time a "Mrs. Jones" -- called Hayman's office, again seeking contributions.

St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Columbia also received a call that week, and several other churches mentioned strange solicitations to Hayman.

These callers' techniques for requesting money differ from the Coalition for Compassion's in several ways.

Each bogus solicitor mentioned the names of needy residents and wanted to accept the money for them, Hayman said, while the coalition keeps names of recipients private and sends donations directly to the utility or rental company.

"We do try to keep an individual's information confidential," Hayman said. "I don't want anyone who calls to feel that their business is public."

Also, Hayman said, the coalition never asks for donations over the phone.

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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