Back in January 2011, I discovered a for-profit company called Community Service Help, Inc. that claimed it could match people that have been assigned court-ordered community service “with a charity that is currently accepting online volunteers” – for a fee, payable by the person in need of community service. But the “community service” is watching videos. Yes, you read that right: people assigned community service pay to get access to videos, which they may or may not watch, and this company then gives each a letter for their probation officers or court representatives saying that the person did community service – which, of course, the person didn’t. – he or she just watched videos.
While I have no issue with a nonprofit organization, or even a government agency, charging a volunteer to cover expenses (materials, training, staff time to supervise and support the volunteer, criminal background check, etc.), I have a real problem with companies charging people for freely-available information.
I also have a big problem with judges and probation officers accepting online community service that consists of a person watching videos. Watching a video is NOT community service. Listening to a lecture is NOT community service. Watching an autopsy is NOT community service. Courts can – and do – sentence offenders to watch videos or listen to a lecture or watch an autopsy, and that’s fine, but these activities are NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE.
My many blogs about this company, such as the first one, What online community service is and is not in (January 2011), as well Online volunteer scam goes global (July 2011), Courts being fooled by online community service scams (from November 2011), and Update on a Virtual Volunteering scam (November 2012), have lead to investigative TV reports on Atlanta Fox 5 and an NBC affiliate in Columbus, Atlanta. Just to show how unscrupulous this company is, after the NBC story, the scam company put a tag on its web site noting “as featured on NBC news!” Ugh.
The pressure hasn’t lead to the company folding, unfortunately. Instead, the company is now trying to go legit, paying for this press release on PR Web to encourage nonprofits to use its service to list virtual volunteering opportunities with the company, which it will then have its paying clients do. The company claims that it will provide “electronic supervision, volunteer hour tracking, time sheets and logging, court reporting, and any necessary phone calls and customer support” for the volunteers it provides to any nonprofit that signs up. Those services are free for the nonprofit, but the volunteers pay the for-profit company for the volunteering. So, now the company can claim that volunteers do real volunteering, provided by legitimate nonprofits.
My thoughts? I think any nonprofit staff that list opportunities with Community Service Help, Inc. should have their heads examined:
- There is still no list on the company’s web site about what people do as online volunteers through the company, and no list of “charity partners” that use this service.
- There is a list of testimonials from people who have supposedly used the service — testimonials which all sound amazingly the same, as though they were all written by the same person.
- There is also still no listing of the names of the staff people and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
- Its statement on its home page, The only place to complete your court ordered community service online!, is a blatant lie. There are many places to complete online volunteering for court ordered community service – where the volunteer pays NOTHING, or pays a tiny fee, much smaller than what Community Service Help, Inc. charges.
- The company has no profile on Yelp.com.
- So far, no online volunteering service has been performed at all through this company. None. The people who use this service do no activities other than watching videos as their “community service.” Through a nonprofit organization in Michigan, the company arranges for paperwork to be sent to the court or probation officer that says the paying customer has completed the “community service” and how many hours they spent doing such.
I really hope nonprofits continue to steer clear of this company. List your online volunteering opportunities with your local volunteer center, through VolunteerMatch, or through any other legitimate nonprofit service (all are free).
And for those of you that need to perform court-ordered community service, check out this list of LEGITIMATE nonprofits that would be happy to involve you.
Still waiting for officials in Miami-Dade County, where this organization is based, any parole and probation associations, the Corporation for National Service and AL!VE to PLEASE investigate or, at least, take a stand regarding this and other companies.
July 6, 2016 update: the web site of the company Community Service Help went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. More info at this July 2016 blog: Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction