WASHINGTON — You’re at a local small business, ready to pay, when you spot a box next to the cashier. It’s got photos of adorable dogs with the words “Missing.” Add a quarter, and you can take a piece of candy from the bottom of the box, knowing you just helped find a missing pet.
Or did you?
While a check by the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection shows a one-time donation was made to a local animal welfare group, the boxes are really a for-profit enterprise. They even have a disclaimer stating “Not a charity” on the side of the container.
Try to go to the website listed on the box and you’ll see a map of the United States featuring graphics of dog and cat silhouettes.
“It really is designed primarily to generate revenue for the owner of that box,” the office’s director, Eric Friedman, told WTOP. “We’re concerned that both consumers and businesses may have been misled.”
Many business owners allowed the boxes to be placed in their stores assuming that they were doing their civic duty to help their communities, Friedman said.
“There’s absolutely no information that leads us to believe that the stores were collecting any money whatsoever,” he said. “In many cases, the merchants that we talked to had no idea how those boxes came to be placed in their stores. The manager on duty thought the night manager may have approved it, the night manager thought the day manager approved it.”
It’s all pretty murky, according to Friedman. His office estimates there are hundreds of the boxes in businesses around the county, and it’s not a new practice. They’ve been spotted for years in stores across the country.
While the disclaimer on the box does alert donors that they are giving money to an entity that is not a charity, Friedman said the boxes are deceptive, and he wants to alert consumers.
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