Alleged scam soliciting prep sports donations hits Carbondale trustee | AspenTimes.com

Alleged scam soliciting prep sports donations hits Carbondale trustee

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Lani Kitching

A suspected scam company that solicits donations purportedly for local high schools sports and allegedly pockets the money has come to Carbondale.

Carbondale Trustee Lani Kitching received a call from a man — “he sounded like a high school student,” Kitching said — asking her business to place ads in an annual Roaring Fork High School winter sports calendar to benefit the school teams.

Kitching said in an interview that she didn’t remember the school running a calendar in the past, but she wanted to help, and the man soliciting the donations seemed above board. She said her business, Proudline Guided Fly Fishing LLC, would donate to the effort.

A few weeks later, Kitching got a bill. It was from a group that called itself Sports Media and listed a physical address in Omaha, Nebraska. There was a phone number, and the letter instructed her to email the ad design. Kitching followed the instructions and mailed a check.

Some weeks after that, another bill came, even though the first check she sent had already been cashed. She called to find out what was going on but no one at Sports Media responded to her calls or emails. And the bills kept coming.

Kitching sent a total of $189 to the alleged scam, and apparently none of it benefited the school.

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The Roaring Fork High School administration “asked all the department heads to verify there was no project ongoing, and indeed there was not,” Kitching said.

NATIONAL SCAM

The Sports Media scheme may be linked to a number of suspected scams that have popped up across the country over the past few years, and it bears a similarity to a string of predatory solicitations in Aspen earlier this year.

The Aspen High School Booster Club has been fighting with a group called Big Game Promotions, which continued charging local business owners long after the club severed ties with the group, the Aspen Times reportedin April.

Schools in Whitefish, Montana, and Dalles, Oregon, have issued scam alerts for Sports Media. The Better Business Bureau has given the company, which also lists Portland, Oregon, as a headquarters and has several associated names, multiple F ratings.

A Fort Worth Star-Telegram investigation from November 2017 revealed that a company called Touchdown Sports, which as also gone by the names Sports Media Advertising and Boost Sports, takes advantage of a loophole in donating to schools.

The company seeks a verbal agreement from a school sports team, solicits donations in exchange for advertising on a calendar or T-shirt or other collateral, and then mails a small number of the items to the school as a donation. The school inevitably returns the items, but the company can pocket the money raised from businesses.

In February 2017, Touchdown Sports responded to a complaint filed with the BBB saying that a cheerleading coach at a particular school “stated that she would like to receive these items for the school, as they were free of charge and required no further action on her part at the time.”

The company immediately began soliciting donations, the response said, and sent items to the school, which the school returned.

“If (the cheerleading coach) did not communicate with her superiors before requesting the items, we are not at fault,” the company said in its response.

In a Nov. 6, 2017, notice, the BBB said there was a pattern of complaints, where customers pay Sports Media and then find out the high school never contracted the company. Some jilted customers say they were charged annually for advertising without their consent, and were unable to reach Sports Media to cancel.

ASK QUESTIONS FIRST

Carbondale’s Kitching also found efforts to contact the company frustrating, and eventually closed the checking account used to pay the alleged scammers upon the advice of her bank.

“Usually, even though the scammers say they’re here, they’re not really in the country,” Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said. Other than Kitching’s statement to the board, no one has reported fraud of that kind to the police, Schilling said.

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office was similarly unaware of any other victims in the area. Beyond warning the public of the scam, there’s little they can do to investigate it.

“We live in such a trusting community, so I was really taken aback when I found out this was happening,” Kitching said.

She brought it up in the Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 11 because she wanted others to be aware of the danger and contact the school before donating money to a third-party company.

tphippen@postindependent.com

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