On a recent Thursday morning, a group of people in blue “FBI (Firm Believer In) Jesus” baseball caps and yellow reflective jackets were asking pedestrians and drivers for money at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive. They said they were from New Life Church and were collecting money for a charity that helps the homeless and abused men, women and children.
The group said that the money helps Queens residents as well as people nationwide in the above-mentioned situations.
But is the money really going to charity? The people said they are Evangelists from a Bible-based faith ministry that was formed 45 or 50 years ago. They strive to pull people off the streets while rebuilding the inner and outer man. But they had no documentation on their organization, and just explained their mission using various Bible verses.
One woman, who identified herself only as “Sister Kim,” said she was once a prostitute and that the New Life Church saved her. But she refused to say where the church is located, except that it is nearby.
A person who answered the phone at the nearest church of that name said the group was unknown to the congregation.
The leader of the group was offended when asked if the charity was legitimate. He called over some other members to confirm that it was; they all swore it was. To drive the point home, the group gave a number for a Pastor Kenny at something called the House of David, but he could not be reached.
The Federal Trade Commission says if an “organization does not give out written information about its identity, its costs, and how the donation will be used” it is most likely a scam, especially since “A legitimate organization will have no trouble providing this information.”
The group’s leader, who would not identify himself, insisted the police check on them every hour and said, “If we were doing something illegal, why wouldn’t they arrest us?”
The 112th Precinct declined to answer several requests for comment on what procedures, if any, charitable organizations must follow when soliciting money.
Joseph Hennessy, Chairman of Community Board 6, said that he had “not heard of this particular group.” However, Mr. Hennessy also stated that “it is not uncommon for organizations such as the Little League to do similar collections, and to my knowledge they do not need a permit from Community Board 6.”
Frank Gulluscio, the CB 6 district manager, warned residents to “be wary of anyone who comes up to you asking for donations without proper identification.”
Since the economy is still struggling, many people are looking for ways to make extra money. Charity scams have been around for many years but are more noticeable during times of economic hardship. Charity scams take on many forms but most commonly involve causes that tug at the heartstrings, like those that say they involve helping disaster victims, the homeless, and abused women or children.
And of course they’re not limited to Queens by any means.
In late April 2010, the Staten Island Advance wrote an article about a group of men and women called the “change gang” who were collecting money in buckets labeled “Help Feed The Homeless.” The group “… refused to give their names or say the name of the charity they’re working for,” the paper reported.