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Prayer Rug Pitch Wears Thin

LITTLE ROCK -Among the most admirable qualities of Arkansans and Americans nationwide is their natural and appropriate inclination to respond to charitable solicitations with generous giving. By giving to charities, it is not unusual to expect that such kindness will result in blessings, even financial blessings, for the giver. However, there are individuals and organizations that try to take advantage of the public's generosity. Accordingly, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert to warn consumers to give careful consideration to charitable solicitations.

"This issue came to my attention because my grandmother got a 'prayer rug' in the mail from Saint Matthew's Church recently," said McDaniel. "She gave it to me so that other God-fearing people would know about it and not be taken in by its false promises."

The solicitation from the Tulsa-based Saint Mathew's includes three items: a descriptive letter addressed generically to "Someone Connected with This Address;" a flyer showcasing positive pictures and quotes from users of the prayer rug; and the prayer rug itself, which is a lavender-colored sheet of paper with a picture of Jesus on it. In the letter, the church asks recipients to take the prayer rug into a quiet room, kneel on it or place it over their knees, and meditate with it for a length of time. After doing so, the letter claims that the user will be blessed with whatever she desires, including money, a new car, a better job and even better health. The only caveat is that the user must send the prayer rug back to the church within 24 hours so that others may use it and receive its blessings.

In addition to the rug, consumers are asked to send back the completed "prayer page." The prayer page is on the back of the letter, and it contains a list of possible prayer topics. It also contains a section the user can fill out in order to give money or a "seed gift to God's work." At the bottom of the letter, the church claims that once it receives your name, address, prayer page and prayer rug, it will send you "a wonderful, free, spiritual gift that will be a blessing to you for a lifetime."

While there is no direct plea for money, following the church's instructions can prove problematic. The Attorney General's Office has received scores of inquiries and complaints about the Saint Matthew's solicitations. Consumers who provided Saint Matthew's with their contact information have complained that after doing so, they were bombarded with solicitations and harassed constantly for donations. While some consumers could not get off the church's mailing list, others complained that they did not receive their promised blessings even though they followed the letter's instructions.
Government agencies and charitable watch-dog groups have tracked Saint Matthew's fundraising activities for several years. The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance reports that Saint Matthew's has declined to respond to requests for information on how donations are used. It has also declined to provide the financial transparency prospective donors need in order to determine whether or not to give. Attorney General McDaniel asks that consumers think twice about responding to this direct mailing campaign and others like it.

"If the letter is not addressed to you specifically, contains no contact information other than a Post Office Box, and asks for money, I would advise consumers to throw it away immediately," said McDaniel.

Before giving to any church or charity, consumers can find out more about the particular organization through the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance Web site, http://www.give.org/ or by contacting the Public Protection Department of the Arkansas Attorney General's Office via email at oag@arkansasag.gov.

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