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Johnson County residents raise scam concerns about groups soliciting donations for sick kids

Several Johnson County residents have recently spotted people on the street asking for money for children with supposedly life-threatening illnesses.
Dana Wright
Several Johnson County residents have recently spotted people on the street asking for money for children with supposedly life-threatening illnesses.

Groups of people have been spotted at intersections asking for donations to supposedly help children with life-threatening illnesses. Some of their signage appears to match signs used by groups in South Carolina that authorities have labeled as scammers.

Some drivers in Johnson County in recent days say they have spotted groups of people at major intersections asking for donations that are supposedly to help pay for health care for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Reports began popping up on social media last week, with some users posting pictures of some of the people who were asking for donations.

It’s not clear if the causes for which the people are seeking donations are legitimate, but some of their signage appears to match signs used by groups in South Carolina that authorities there have labeled as scammers.

Drivers in Johnson County who have reported seeing these groups have said they are asking for donations for children who need life-saving medicine, such as a bone marrow transplants or cancer treatments.

These social media reports say the people are often wearing reflective vests and holding up professional-looking signs.

The people have been reportedly spotted at some major intersections, including I-435 and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park and 75th Street and Nieman Road in Shawnee. They have also been reportedly seen in other cities in the Kansas City metro, including Lee’s Summit and Independence.

A Shawnee Mission Post reporter who went out driving on multiple days this week to some of the intersections at which the groups had been reportedly seen did not encounter them.

Officer John Lacy, a spokesperson for the Overland Park Police Department, said that as long as the groups stay on the side of the road on public property, they are allowed to be there.

“We cannot kick them off property or anything like that because it’s freedom of speech,” Lacy said. “However, what we can do, we can just do a check for welfare.”

If individuals do venture onto the median, Lacy said Overland Park Police are allowed to ask them to relocate.

Pedestrians standing in medians has been in the news in Johnson County before: the city of Merriam passed an ordinance last year that prohibits pedestrians from standing in medians at nine of its major intersections, a move interpreted by some critics as a means for cracking down on homeless people asking for money.

While the Post was unable to confirm with any local police department about the legitimacy of these donation-seekers, some social media users have drawn links to a reported scam in South Carolina.

Dana Wright, a talk show host on 980 KMBZ, compared the image of a person seen asking for donations near 75th and Nieman in Shawnee, with what appeared to be a photo of the same child that was used in a donation scam in North Charleston, S.C., in May.

How big is the issue? Though there are various reports from drivers on social media, local police departments in Johnson County say they have received either few or no calls about the situation.

Both Overland Park and Leawood police departments said they have not logged any calls specifically about donation seekers.

As of last Thursday, Major Jim Baker with the Shawnee Police Department said they had received some calls in regards to the situation, but the donation seekers were gone by the time officers arrived on scene.

Below are some tips provided by local law enforcement on how drivers can approach and interact with people asking for donations at intersections:

  • Public Information Officer Brad Robbins of Leawood Police recommended doing research before donating to any cause, as credible organizations like United Way or Harvesters have websites with accountings on how the money they collect is spent.
  • Officer Lacy in Overland Park said that instead of giving money, you can provide gift cards for items like food, so you know how the money is being spent.
  • Instead of directly giving money to donation-seekers on the street, Lacy recommended residents donate to reputable organizations and simply direct those asking for help to those charities.

“People will always tell me that they feel guilty for not handing them money or anything like that,” Lacy said. “If they ask for anything, just say ‘I’ve already given to the Salvation Army,’ and you won’t feel guilty. Always send money to a reputable foundation.”
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

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