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It pays to question where charitable donations will go

What can you tell me about Firefighters Charitable Foundation? This group contacted me by phone and said it provides direct aid for firefighters and their families in such areas as medical care, mortgage payments, educational scholarships, food, shelter and clothing.

I said I'd send $10.

I thought it was for Pinellas County firefighters, but I am supposed to send the check to Boca Raton. I hesitate to send money to places so far from where it is supposed to be used.

A. Joanne Miller

Response: Firefighters Charitable Foundation is fairly new, just in its second year, so records of its activities are limited.

It is registered with the state and with the Pinellas County Charitable Solicitations Office as required by law.

According to county records, the organization estimates it will raise $350,000 this year, spend $210,000 on fund raising and $70,000 on other expenses, and give $70,000 to firefighter programs. So $6 of your money will pay telephone solicitors, $2 will cover other expenses and $2 will go where you intended.

Keep in mind that it is legal for a charity to spend 80 percent of its income on fund-raising. Many charities consider professional solicitors a necessary cost of doing business.

The law forbids individual firefighters or stations from taking money, but firefighter unions do accept donations. Unions negotiate contracts, represent members during disciplinary hearings, sponsor charity events and sometimes donate money to members who are injured or sick.

Some firefighter unions hire their own professional telephone solicitors to raise money. A large chunk of these solicited donations goes for fund-raising expenses, but the balance does go into local firefighter union coffers.

Rick Feinberg, an official with the St. Petersburg Association of Fire Fighters, a local union, said he has gotten quite a few complaints from residents who say the Firefighters Charitable Foundation is telling them that their donations will benefit local firefighters.

"I can assure you," Feinberg said, "there is no firefighter in Pinellas County who has benefited from this outfit."

If you want all of your $10 to go to a local firefighter union, call your city or county fire department and ask for the name and address of the union. Make your check payable to the union, not the fire department.

And remember that while local fire stations can't take your money, they probably won't turn down a thank-you in the form of doughnuts, brownies and cookies.

Congress set the April 15 deadline

When did the Internal Revenue Service extend the deadline for income tax returns from March 15 to April 15?

Audrey Allen

Response: Congress passed the bill to make the change in 1954. It took effect the following year.

Son gets hard lesson in phone scams

A company called Consumer Acceptance Network called and asked to speak to my son, who had just applied for a credit card. It asked him for information and, assuming it was doing a credit check for his application, he gave his Social Security number and bank account number.

Then the company hit his bank account for $179.

He works two jobs most of the time to make ends meet and had to take on extra work to make up this loss.

When he called the company, it said he had been signed up for membership in its catalog shopping club and the money was to pay for a purchase. He said he did not want and had not ordered anything. It said he must wait until the package arrived (shipping takes 45 days), then write and say why he did not want it.

The company assured him he would get a refund, but all he has gotten is a runaround. We've contacted the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs, but they haven't been able to help.

We can't afford to take this to court and that's just what it counts on. The public needs to know about this outfit.

Sherry Fowler

Response: According to January news reports, Consumer Acceptance Network was one of six Tampa Bay area businesses that were shut down, had mail delivery stopped and bank accounts frozen following an investigation by U.S. Postal Inspectors and FBI agents.

We're sorry your son had to learn this lesson the hard way, but we appreciate your sharing.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, to leave a recorded request for Action.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or on our voice mail system; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Upon request, names will not be published.

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