TIFTON -- Local law enforcement officials are warning residents to be cautious when telephone solicitors call their homes seeking donations for what may be phony causes.

Citizens are reporting callers requesting donations to purchase bullet-proof vests for law enforcement officers or contributions to funds they say are used by law enforcement families.

Bruce Willis, chief deputy at the Tift County Sheriff's Department, advises those called to be cautious, get a telephone number to call the business and a business name or any other information that can be used to verify the business and fund raiser is legitimate.

"We advise people not to send money or checks for any type of public fund-raiser event unless they are sure who they are dealing with," Willis said.

Willis said that when his department raises funds for such non-profit organizations as the Relay for Life, members of the department go in person to talk with local businesses.

"The person who is giving the donation knows exactly who is doing it and what the money will be used for," Willis said.

Willis said the elderly are often targets for telephone scams.

"The bad thing is that they are so trusting. They tend to be targeted and need to be more cautious," Willis said.

Omega Police Chief Walt Young said he has recently received several calls from Omega citizens complaining about various calls they suspect are from scammers. Like the sheriff's department, Young said his department usually works one-on-one with local businesses.

"We don't really hit people with calls to their homes, we hit businesses when we do any kind of fund raising," Young said. "If we do raise money for something, an officer will be there in person."

Several people have reported calls from people claiming to be collecting money for the Policemen's Benevolent Association (PBA). Young said the organization is legitimate and raises money mainly for officers' legal defense funds.

Young said he recently spoke with Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

"It is really better to give to local non-profit organizations," Young said. "At times, organizations like the PBA hire telemarketers who get up to 80 percent of what they collect."

Jim Smith, chief of the Tifton Police Department, said his department has for several years used telephone solicitation to raise money for its annual gospel sing. Funds from the event benefit the department's summer recreation program for young people, which includes fishing and bowling trips.

The fund-raiser is now in progress. Smith said the woman in charge of the fund raising calls local businesses and he is not aware of her calling individuals at home.

"If anyone has a question about the fund-raiser they can call the department," Smith said.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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