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Northeast Ohio fire departments issue warning about bogus text message fundraising offer

Fraudulent text message offers residents $10 off on fire department fundraising tee-shirts
N.E. Ohio fire departments issue warning about bogus text message fundraising offer
Posted at 10:38 PM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 08:34:52-05

AVON LAKE, Ohio — Three Northeast Ohio fire departments report their residents are receiving bogus text message offers for fake discounts on fire department t-shirts. Fire officials told News 5 that the text offers contain a link that illegally attempts to take the money and the personal account information of unsuspecting consumers.

The scam alert was first reported by TMC News on its Facebook page on Jan. 4.

Avon Lake Fire Chief Jeremy Betsa told News 5 his department issued a warning about the bogus offer right after the new year and said in all cases local fire departments would not use text messages to try and raise funds.

“If they think we’re out there fundraising, then people are likely to click on that link thinking they’re supporting us, but it’s unfortunate because that’s not a fundraising mechanism that we use," Betsa said. “Using these approaches to try to get people to give them money, it’s despicable, for lack of a better term, that our name is associated with this.”

“To obtain data from personal devices, or somebody would go as far as putting their financial information in there,” Betsa added. "If something were to happen to one of our residents that would make me even more angry.”

Chief Russell Scarbrough with the Elyria Township Fire Department also issued a warning about the bogus text message offer back in November. Scarbrough said the fraudulent offer caused such a stir his department started to legitimately sell t-shirts, which has been very successful.

“I think they started with 50 or 100 t-shirts, I can’t remember which, sold out in a day, day-and-a-half, so we ordered another 100 of these," Scarbrough said. "On Nov. 15th we saw this on Facebook, somebody put out there Elyria Township is selling tee-shirts, so we immediately put something out on Facebook saying this is a scam, don’t do that, we’re not selling tee-shirts. It angers me, it desperately angers me.”

The Eaton Township Fire Department also issued a warning about the fake offer last spring.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office reported complaints to the Federal Communications Commission about bogus phishing offers via text messages have tripled since 2019, and it encouraged consumers to report the fraudulent offers to its office or the Federal Trade Commission.

Meanwhile, Scarbrough believes con artists exploiting local first responder fundraising, using a fake text message offers, represents a new moral low.

“We don’t have that big of a budget, that’s why we do these fundraisers," Scarbrough said. “Our residents are happy with us, they back us completely. I don’t want to lose that trust because some scam artists are out there trying to make it look like we’re hurting for more money.”