Scam of the day – August 29, 2017 – Beware of Hurricane Harvey charity scams

Hurricane Harvey, which first hit Texas four days ago has brought devastating rains, wind and flooding.   This kind of natural disaster brings out the best in us as many people are quick to donate to charities to help the survivors of the storms and the families of the victims.  This kind of natural disaster also brings out the worst in scammers  who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of the storms, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses.   Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you.  The problem is that whenever you are contacted on the phone, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a phony charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity.  Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email or text message you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email or text message.  Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam.  You can also see how much of the money that the charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.  Here is a link to charitynavigator.org with a list of a number of highly rated charities helping in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.  https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5239

Recommended charities include Americares, International Relief Teams, Direct Relief, GlobalGiving, Save the Children and the American Red Cross.

Scam of the day – October 10, 2016 – Hurricane Matthew charity scams

While Hurricane Matthew has caused serious damage on the South Coast of the United States, the utter devastation caused by this storm in Haiti, where hundreds of people died as a result of the storm, has been so much worse.   This kind of natural disaster brings out the best in us as many people are quick to make donations to charities to help the survivors of the storms and the families of the victims.  This kind of natural disaster also brings out the worst in scammers  who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of the storms, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses.   Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you.  The problem is that whenever you are contacted on the phone, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a phony charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity.  Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email, you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email.  Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam.  You can also see how much of the money that the charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.  Here is a link to charitynavigator.org with a list of a number of highly rated charities helping in the Haitian relief.           http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=4386

Scam of the day – May 30, 2016 – Memorial Day scams

As we honor our veterans today on Memorial Day, scammers take Memorial Day as just another opportunity to scam veterans and others.  In the case of Memorial Day, you can expect to be solicited by scammers by phone (remember legitimate charities can call you by phone even if you have enrolled in the Do Not Call List because it exempts charities), email or letters asking for your money for various veterans causes or charitable ventures tied to Memorial Day.

Another common scam used against veterans starts with a telephone call in which the veteran is told that in order to continue to receive various benefits, it is necessary to verify personal information such as the veteran’s birth date, Social Security number or bank account information.  Of course, the call is not from the Veterans Administration and the call is not to verify information, but rather to gain information to be used to make the veteran a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

You never know who is on the other line of a telemarketing call, so never trust them.  If you are at all interested in what they are selling or soliciting, ask them to send you written materials that you can then check out to see if it is legitimate.  When it comes to charities, a good place to go is www.charitynavigator.org where you can see if a charity is legitimate or a scam as well as actually see how much of the money they collect goes toward their charitable purposes and how much towards salaries and administrative costs.

As for calls purporting to be from the Veterans Administration, they do not call you on the phone to verify information.  If you receive such a call, you can never be sure from whom the call comes because clever identity thieves are able to use a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear on your Caller ID as if the call from the identity thief is coming from the VA.  Since you cannot ever be sure who is calling you when you receive a call asking for personal information, you should never give that information out in response to a phone call, text message or email.  Instead if you have the slightest thought that the communication may be legitimate, you should contact the real entity, in this case, the VA at a phone number that you know is accurate to inquire where you will learn that the initial contact was a scam.

Scam of the day – March 14, 2016 – Wounded Warrior Project fires administrators

The Wounded Warrior Project was created in 2003 to help wounded veterans coming back to the United States.  It started modestly, but grew dramatically in recent years, taking in almost a billion dollars in donations since 2009.  However, despite much good work helping returning veterans, there have been charges for quite a while of lavish spending unrelated to the charity’s purposes as well as large salaries paid to administrators, particularly Steve Nardizzi, its chief executive and his right hand man Al Giordano.  Following an internal investigation, Nardizzi and Giordano both had their employment with the Wounded Warrior Project terminated last week.  According to charitynavigator.org approximately 40% of the charities donations were spent on fundraising and administrative expenses in 2014.

Some charities are pure scams where scammers take all of the donations and never provide payments or services to anyone other than the phony charity’s administrators.  However, other “legitimate” charities may, strictly speaking, not be violating any laws, but take an outrageous amount of money to pay inflated salaries of administrators and costly fund raising efforts that do little to advance the charitable purposes of these charities.  I have written many times about various charities that fit this pattern.

TIPS

As a rule of thumb, charities that spend more than 25 to 33% of their donations on their own administrative costs including large salaries may be considered to be charities you may wish to avoid. A good place to go to find out whether or not a charity is first and foremost a scam and then to learn how much the charity spends of its donations on its own administrative expenses is charitynavigator.org where you can find this information for free.

Scam of the day – October 28, 2015 – Breast Cancer Awareness month scams

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and as we come to the end of the month, scammers are taking full advantage of the increased attention to this disease which is diagnosed in 200,000 women each year.  Actually, although the disease is commonly thought to only affect women, men can also get breast cancer.  Richard Roundtree, the actor who played Shaft in the classic 1971 movie of the same name; Peter Criss, of the iconic Hall of Fame rock group KISS and talk show host Montel Williams are just a few of the many men who have had breast cancer.  Just today I received a telephone call from a telemarketer seeking a contribution to a breast cancer charity or at least that is what she said.  Even if you are on the federal Do-Not-Call List, which I strongly recommend, unless you want to talk to telemarketers, the law permits charities and politicians to contact you.  However, whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure who is really calling you.  Even if your Caller ID indicates that the call you are getting is coming from a charity whose name you recognize, the call actually may be from a scammer using a technique called Spoofing to make it appear that the call is legitimate when it is not.  The truth is that the call you receive may or may not be from a legitimate charity or a telemarketer on behalf of a legitimate charity and you have no way of knowing who is really on the other end of the line.

TIPS

When you receive such a call from a telemarketer or someone purporting to represent a charity, if you are interested in the particular charity, the best thing you can do is just to ask them to send you written material.  Do not provide your credit card number over the phone to anyone who calls you because you cannot be sure that they are legitimate.   Also, as I have warned you in the past, many phony charities have names that are similar to real charities so it is always a good idea to investigate a charity before you make a charitable contribution.  In addition, when you receive a charitable solicitation telephone call from a telemarketer, the telemarketer is generally being paid a commission for the money he or she collects.  Thus, your contribution to the charity is diluted by the amount that goes to the telemarketer and as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “not that there is anything wrong with that.”    However, if you really want to make your charitable contribution go farther, you will  be  better served by first checking out the particular charity at www.charitynavigator.org where you can find out not only if the particular charity is legitimate, but also how much of your contribution goes toward administrative costs and how much actually goes toward the charity’s charitable purposes.  Then you can make your contribution directly to the charity without any amount being deducted for fund raising expenses.

Scam of the day – May 18, 2015 – Color run scams

What you may ask is a color run?  These are road races, often advertised as being done to help a charity, in which the runners wear white clothes and along the route are doused with bright powdered dyes that turn their clothing into rainbows of color.  While this may seem like fun, the Better Business Bureau and a number of law enforcement agencies including the police departments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Bangor, Maine are warning people that many of these color runs are scams being operated by scam artists who steal the registration fees, cancel the race and refuse to refund the fees.

Making this scam more complicated is the fact that there have been legitimate color runs such as the recent Color Vibe Run in West Palm Beach, Florida which had more than 7,000 runners with funds raised benefiting the local Habitat for Humanity charity.

TIPS

Two of the organizations sponsoring these color runs that have been accused of being scams are Color 5 Mile and Run or Dye.   Anyone considering participating in such a run should first make sure that they pay any entrance fee by credit card so that if the race is cancelled, you can more readily dispute the charge with your credit card company and get your money back.  As always, there is little fine in fine print, so you should make sure that you read carefully the fine print of any application to participate in such a race, particularly as to the refund policy.  Finally, if the race is advertised as being done to benefit a charity, check out the charity first with charitynavigator.org to make sure that the charity is legitimate and if it is, contact the charity directly to confirm that they have an arrangement with the sponsor of the color run.

Scam of the day – August 24, 2014 – Ice Bucket Challenge scams

According to the old saying, “no good deed goes unpunished” and this phrase could apply to the ALS Bucket Challenge, which has been taking the country by storm.  As everyone knows by now, people are dousing themselves with buckets of icy water as part of a national fund raising effort to support the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, which is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  We have all seen videos online and on television showing various people doing the challenge in entertaining and unusual ways.  Many celebrities and politicians have also been caught up in this viral campaign.  Unfortunately, as with anything that captures the public’s imagination, the Ice Bucket Challenge has also captured the imagination of scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists who are sending emails and text messages that purport to provide links to videos of particularly enticing and entertaining examples of the Ice Bucket Challenge, such as purported videos of popular celebrities, politicians, or athletes being dowsed, but, in fact are links that when clicked upon will download keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the personal information from your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Another Ice Bucket Challenge related scam relates to websites or links for you to click on in order to make a charitable contribution.  Scammers have been busy setting up phony ALS charities and soliciting online and through telemarketing for phony ALS charities where your contribution will not go to ALS research and prevention, but rather to line the pockets of a scammer.

TIPS

In regard to avoiding the Ice Bucket Challenge video scams, my advice is the same as always, which is to never click on links in emails or in text messages unless you are absolutely sure that they are legitimate.  Even if they appear to come from a real friend of yours, you cannot be sure that your friend’s email account had not been hacked by a scammer sending you a tainted text or email.

As for avoiding the ALS charitable contribution scams, my advice is the same in regard to all charitable solicitations which is that whenever you are contacted by phone, mail, email, text message or any other form of communication, you can never be sure that the sender is actually from a legitimate charity.  In addition, many phony charities have names that are quite similar to legitimate charities and you can be fooled into giving a contribution to a scammer.  The first thing you should do before making any charitable contribution is to first check out the charity at www.charitynavigator.org where you first can find out whether or not the charity is actually legitimate.  Charitynavigator.org also provides information as to how much of the particular charities contributions go toward its charitable purposes and how much goes toward its salaries and administrative costs.  Once you have ascertained that a charity is legitimate, you should go online to the charity’s website to make your contribution directly.  In the case of the ALS Association, its website is http://www.alsa.org/

Scam of the day – July 26, 2014 – Immigrant children charity scam

The plight of children from Central America pouring into America has caught the attention of many people as the government is working to both enforce our immigration laws while showing compassion for these children.  Times like this bring out the best in many people and there are a number of charities including, most prominently, Catholic Charities USA that are providing humanitarian assistance to these children in need.  Unfortunately, scammers are also taking advantage of the situation by either appealing to people through phony charities or by telephoning people pretending to be representing legitimate charities.  In both cases, the money you contribute goes to a scammer’s pocket and not to help needy children.

TIPS

Phony charities often have names that sound very similar to legitimate charities so don’t give to a charity unless you are sure that it is legitimate.  A good place to go to find out if a charity is legitimate as well as to learn how much of your contribution will go to the charity’s charitable purposes and how much goes to its own salaries and administrative expenses is www.charitynavigator.org.  As for telemarketing charitable solicitations, even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, charities are allowed to call you, however, whenever you get a call, you can never be sure who is on the other end of the line so you should never make a charitable donation over the phone to someone who has called you.  If you are inclined to give a donation in response to such a call, go to the charities website or call them at a number that you know is correct in order to make your contribution.

Scam of the day – January 14, 2014 – Firefighters Support Foundation scam

Recently residents of Montana have been receiving letters soliciting contributions to the Firefighters Support Foundation, an organization that appears to support Montana firefighters.  In truth, the organization is not a legitimate organization promoting the welfare of firefighters, but in actuality is a scam intended to raise money only for the scammers who operate the phony charity.

TIPS

Solicitations for phony charities are quite common.  Often the phony charities have names that sound legitimate and it is difficult to know merely from a solicitation whether or not the charity is legitimate or not.  Phony charities related to police and firefighters are particularly common.  Prior to giving to any charity, I suggest you first look into whether indeed the charity is legitimate or not and the best way I know to do that is to go to www.charitynavigator.org where not only can you find out whether the charity is a scam, but also how much of your donation goes toward the charitable purposes of a legitimate charity and how much goes toward salaries, administrative costs and fund raising.

Scam of the day – November 10, 2013 – Veterans’ Day scams

Tomorrow, November 11th is Veterans’ Day, a day we set aside to honor those who have served our country and to whom all Americans owe a debt of gratitude.  However, for scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, tomorrow is just another opportunity to take advantage of the best intentions of people and steal their money.  People will be receiving telephone calls that purport to be from various veterans’ organizations or charities seeking donations when, in fact, many of these calls will be from scammers seeking to steal money under false pretenses.  Other scams related to Veterans’ Day will occur when veterans receive telephone calls purporting to be from the Veterans’ Administration asking for personal information necessary to verify or update the information of the VA.  Of course, the call is not from the VA and the request for personal information is merely to gather that type of information in order to make the veteran a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Even if you are on the federal Do Not Call List, which is a good thing to be on if you wish to avoid telemarketers, you are legally able to be called by charities.  The problem is that whenever you receive a call purporting to be from a charity, you have absolutely no way of knowing if you are being contacted by a legitimate charity or its representative.  You also cannot know, without doing some research, whether the particular veterans’ charity that may be contacting you is legitimate or not.   As I often advise you, never give personal information such as credit card information to anyone over the phone if you have not made the call.  If you are interested in considering a gift to a particular charity, first check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org to make sure that the charity is legitimate and then get the address from charitynavigator.org for the charity, if it is legitimate so that if you wish to make a gift, you can make it directly to the charity.

As for calls that you may receive purporting to be from the VA or any other governmental agency requesting information, you should never provide information over the phone to anyone because, as I indicated above, you can never be sure if the caller is who he or she says they are.  In this case, you should contact the particular agency at a telephone number that you know is accurate to confirm whether or not the request for personal information was legitimate or not.  Most of the time, the call will turn out to be a scam.