Scam of the day – October 8, 2013 – Charity fraud trial of John Donald Cody

Yesterday, lawyer and former military intelligence officer John Donald Cody, who has used the alias, Bobby Thompson went on trial for scamming people around the country out of more than one hundred million dollars in regard to a fraudulent charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association, which through which Cody collected millions of dollars from people who thought they were contributing to a charity to help veterans and their families only to later learn that the charity was a scam.  Like many phony charities it has a name that both sounds legitimate and resembles that of real charities that help members of the military and their families.  The charity is now disbanded following investigations and charges in a number of states.  Already one person has pleaded guilty to corrupt activity, money laundering and tampering with records in regard to this phony charity.

TIPS

The most important thing to remember before contributing to any charity is to make sure that the charity to which you are considering making a donation is a legitimate charity.  I suggest that you go to the website www.charitynavigator.org where you can find out for free whether the charity is a scam or not.  You also can find out how much the charity spends on its charitable purposes and how much of what it collects goes toward salaries and administrative costs.  Too many “legitimate” charities spend much too much on their own salaries rather than directing the donations toward the charitable purposes for which they were organized.

Scam of the day – September 21, 2013 – Colorado flood scam

As the devastating Colorado floods continue to ravage parts of the state, generous people around the country are reaching out, as Americans always do when our fellow citizens are in need, to help those affected by the floods.  Unfortunately, scammers pounce upon this opportunity to set up phony charities to lure you into contributing to lining their pockets rather than having the money go to those in need.  We have seen this scenario repeated numerous times whether in instances of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Irene or manmade tragedies such as the Newtown, Connecticut shootings and the story is always the same.  Suddenly new charities spring up online.  Sometimes you may receive a telephone call or an email soliciting for one of these new charities.  So how do you know how to safely give?

TIP

You start by remembering my motto, “Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”  Whenever you get a solicitation by phone, email or text message you cannot be sure who really is contacting you.  They may use the name of a legitimate charity, but you can’t be sure that these people are who they say they are.  Additionally, when you are contacted by phone, it is generally by a paid charitable solicitor who is paid a commission on what he or she collects so the full amount of your contribution is diluted when it gets to the charity.  The best thing to do is to check out any particular charity you may be considering with the website www.charitynavigator.org.  This website will first tell you whether or not the charity is legitimate or a scam.  But then it will also tell you how much of your contribution actually goes for charitable purposes and how much for administrative costs and salaries.  The figures may surprise you.  Once you have determined to what charity you are going to give, you should contact the charity directly to make your donation rather than go through a paid charitable solicitor so that more of your money will go toward the organization’s charitable purposes.

Scam of the day – August 27, 2013 – Forest fire scams

Throughout the years that I have written Scamicide there have been a number of natural disasters including the Japanese Tsunami and Hurricane Sandy. Recently there have been horribly destructive forest fires through much of the Western United States claiming the homes of many unfortunate residents.  These are terrible events that harm many people, but they bring out the best in our fellow citizens as so many of us respond to these disasters by donating to charities to help the victims.   Unfortunately, scammers are right there to take advantage of these generous impulses by setting up phony charities.  In addition, other scammers will take these events as an opportunity to scam the people who have already been victimized by these natural disasters by posing as government aid workers or insurance adjusters with the promise of help when all they really are doing is stealing personal information to use to make the people already victims of natural disasters victims of identity theft.

TIPS

Before you ever give money to a charity, make sure that it is a legitimate charity.  Often phony charities will have names that are deceptively similar to real charities.  Go to the website www.charitynavigator.org where you can check and see not only if a particular charity is legitimate, but also how much of your contribution actually goes to helping the victims and how much goes toward the charity’s fund raising, salaries and administrative expense. There are some “legitimate” charities that spend inordinate amounts of the money they collect on lining their own pockets.

As for anyone asking you for personal information representing themselves as employees of FEMA, state emergency management agencies, insurance companies or insurance adjusters, you can never be sure that the person with whom you are meeting is actually legitimate.  Often the scammers will have counterfeit credentials.  Never give personal information to anyone until you have independently confirmed that they are legitimate by contacting the company or agency they purport to represent directly to make sure that you are not giving information to a scam artist.

Scam of the day – August 11, 2013 – Flood relief scams

The videos of the devastating floods affecting much of the Midwest have touched the heart of many Americans, who, in time of need generously reach out to help their fellow Americans.  But scam artists, the only criminals to whom we refer as artists are also there to take advantage of our best instincts.  They also are there to victimize even more the unfortunate victims of the floods.  Warnings are now being issued by many in law enforcement, such as Missouri’s Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long who warned people to be wary of identity thieves and scam artists using these floods as an opportunity to scam people out of their money.  Two major types of scams often occur following such disasters as we are seeing in the Midwest.  The first is phony charities that spring up eager to take your money, when in fact all that they are doing is stealing your money with none of it going to help the victims of the floods.  The second type of scam is an identity theft scam where scammers turn up posing as government aid workers or insurance adjusters with the promise of help.  They then solicit personal information from the victims, such as Social Security numbers which they then use to victimize the flood victims a second time;  this time as victims of identity theft.

TIPS

Before you ever give money to a charity, make sure that it is a legitimate charity. Often phony charities will have names that are deceptively similar to real charities.  Go to the website www.charitynavigator.org where you can check and see not only if the charity is legitimate, but how much of your contribution actually goes to helping the victims and how much goes toward the charity’s fund raising, salaries and administrative expenses.  There are some “legitimate” charities that keep much too much of your contributions for their own pockets.  Also, when you decide on a charity to which you wish to contribute, make your contribution directly to the charity online, through the mail or by phone at numbers and addresses that you know are accurate so that you can be sure that your money will go to the real charity and not a scammer using the name of a legitimate charity.  By making your payment directly to a charity you also make sure that a larger part of what you contribute will actually go to the charity.  When you pay your money to a professional solicitor hired by the charity, a portion of your contribution goes to the professional fund raiser.

As for anyone asking you for personal information and representing themselves as employees of FEMA, state emergency management agencies, insurance companies or insurance adjusters, you can never be sure that the person with whom you meet actually is legitimate.  Often the scammers will have counterfeit credentials.  The best thing you can do is to never give personal information to such people, but rather get information from them and follow up online or on the phone with someone actually from FEMA or whatever agency or company you need to deal with.  Contact them at addresses or numbers that you have confirmed are accurate.  Do not trust the information given to you by a field worker who may only be posing as a legitimate FEMA employee.  Verify.

 

Scam of the day – June 9, 2013 – Sandy Hook Elementary School scam

On June 7th I told you about the indictment of Nouel Alba for fraudulently representing that she was the aunt of Noah Pozner, a six year old child who was one of the students killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  Alba used Facebook, telephone calls and text messages in which she claimed that she was the aunt of Noah Pozner and needed funds for his burial to scam people out of thousands of dollars.  Now, rather than face a trial, Alba has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on August 29th.  She faces a maximum sentence of twenty years although she is not expected to receive that stiff a sentence.

TIP

The lesson remains the same.  As much as we want to help the victims of disasters that may either be man made such as the shootings in Newtown or natural, such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma, we must always be skeptical of any solicitations to contribute to charities for the victims.  Fortunately, with a little due diligence, you can find a legitimate charity that will provide help to those people who really need it.  First, check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org which is a free service that will provide you with the truth as to whether a charity is legitimate or a scam.  Second, make sure that when you do give to a legitimate charity, that you are actually giving to the real charity rather than one that may have a name that is deceptively similar to the real charity.  Finally, when actually making your contribution, do it directly to the charity on its website or through snail mail making sure that the address is correct.

Scam of the day – May 22, 2013 – Oklahoma tornado charity scams

As our hearts go out to the victims of the Oklahoma tornado, many of us are looking for places to make donations to help ease the suffering of the people affected by the killer storm.  Unfortunately, as with every disaster whether it is man made, such as the bombing of the Boston Marathon last month or of the natural variety, such as this week’s tornado in Oklahoma, among the first responders are scam artists who immediately contact you pretending to be charitable organizations dedicated to helping the victims, but who, in fact, are just taking advantage of the public’s generosity to steal money intended to help the victims.

TIPS

It is generally a good idea to stick to established charities that you know are capable of providing services to the victims and even then it is important to make sure that you are actually contributing to the recognizable charity and not one that has a name that might be deceptively similar.  Be particularly wary of solicitations for charitable contributions you receive by phone.  Even if you are on the federal Do-Not-Call List, you may be contacted by charities by phone, however, whenever you are contacted by phone to contribute to a charity, you have no way of knowing whether the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are.  Similarly with email or text solicitations, you cannot be sure of the identity of who is contacting you.  The best course of action is to go on line to the website of legitimate charities to find out how you can contribute online, by phone or where to send a check.  Before you decide to make any charitable donation, you might find it helpful to go to www.charitynavigator.org where you can find out not only if a particular charity is legitimate, but also how much of what it receives in donations go to helping the victims and how much goes to salaries and administrative costs of the charity.

Scam of the day – May 14, 2013 – 9/11 charity scam

Recently the New Jersey Attorney General announced charges of theft by deception and conspiracy against two men who claimed to be firefighters who were working at a firehouse close to the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11 when they were hit by the terrorist flown airplanes.  The charges relate to sales by the men of 9/11 memorial T-shirts which they sold for $20 each and represented that all of the proceeds went to the families of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.  The men sold the T-shirts from a truck painted with the names of police and firefighters who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.  The truth is that the men who are not New York firefighters pocketed all of the money they received from the sale of the T-shirts and the families of the police and firefighters who died on 9/11 received nothing.  Phony charities set up by scammers to take advantage of the public’s generosity and willingness to help those in need following a tragedy such as the Newtown Connecticut school shooting or the Boston Marathon bombing has become a common  reprehensible scam tactic. TIPS Unfortunately, my motto “trust me, you can’t trust anyone” is too often correct.  When it comes to charitable donations, you can never be sure that a particular charity is legitimate until you have checked them out.  The website www.charitynavigator.org is a great and free resource which can help you to identify not only whether or not a charity is legitimate, but also how much of what is collected by a “legitimate” charity goes toward paying its own salaries and administrative expenses.  Some “legitimate” charities appear to exist primarily for their own well being rather than that of the people whom they say they are helping.  If you are contacted by a charity by phone, email or letter, even if the name of the charity is a legitimate one, you cannot be sure that the communication is not a forgery or a scam.  The best thing to do if you are interested in giving to a particular charity is to check out the charity’s real website for instructions as to how to contribute.

Scam of the day – April 16, 2013 – Boston Marathon attack scams

The horrible events at yesterday’s Boston Marathon where two bombs were detonated, killing and maiming innocent people is bad enough, but now scammers will be taking advantage of the curiosity of people about the event to make them victims of identity theft.  Every disaster, whether it is a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina or the Japanese Tsunami or unnatural horrible events such as the shootings in Newtown Connecticut bring out the scammers who will be looking to take advantage of both the public’s curiosity and its generosity to turn them into victims of identity theft and scams.  You can expect emails and Facebook messages that promise links to unique video footage of the events that will come laden with keystroke logging malware that can steal all of the information contained in your computer that will, in turn, make you a victim of identity theft.  Even if the emails or Facebook messages appear to come from someone you know, you can never be confident that someone has not merely hacked into your friend’s email account or Facebook account.  Phony charities will also be springing up to help the victims and once again, you can be sure that the scammers will be setting up many of these charities to play on your heartstrings and steal your money.

TIPS

Never click on links or download attachments unless you are absolutely sure that they are legitimate and even then, your friends and family may be unwittingly passing on links and attachments tainted with malware.  If you have any doubts as to the source of an email or a Facebook message, contact that person at a telephone number that you know is accurate to inquire if indeed they actually contacted you as well as to check on the source of the material that they, in turn, are passing on to you.  When it comes to videos of newsworthy events, stick  with well established, legitimate websites.  You can’t trust the other material found on the Internet.  As for charities, never give to a charity unless you have confirmed both that it is a legitimate charity and that it does not use too much of its contributions for payment of salaries of executives within the charities and fund raising activities.  You can find this critical information at www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – October 28, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy scams

It is expected that within the next couple of days, Hurricane Sandy will hit the United States and early estimates put the cost of damage at more than 15 billion dollars.  Much of the East Coast of the United States and inland states as far west as Ohio are predicted to sustain serious damage from wind, rain and even snow.   Much misery will be caused by the storm, but on top of the misery caused by a  natural disaster will be the misery caused by scam artists and identity thieves who will take the opportunity of the storm, being deemed Frankenstorm by many, to wreak further havoc on both victims of the storm and charitably inclined Americans who may wish to donate to charities that will be present to aid storm victims.  The scams will be many including, scammers and identity thieves who will pose as Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) employees and insurance company representatives in order to take personal information from victims to turn them into victims of identity theft.  There will also be phony contractors looking to steal the money of victims for repair work that never gets done or is done in a shoddy fashion.  Finally, there will be phony charities that will appear or charities with names confusingly similar to legitimate charities seeking your contributions while in fact, these “charities ” are just stealing your money and robbing the storm victims of a chance to get much needed help

TIPS

Never give out personal information to anyone of whom you are not absolutely positive as to their identity.  Federal and state agencies will not ask for fees in order to be eligible for assistance and neither will insurance companies.  Also beware of people who pass themselves off as insurance adjusters promising to get you more money.  Insurance adjusters are licensed in each state and you should check out any person claiming to be an adjuster before hiring them.  Make sure they are who they say they are and that there are not numerous complaints against them.  Never give personal information to anyone passing themselves off as a FEMA or other emergency aid agency employee regardless of how good their identification card looks.  ID cards can be forged.  Rather, call FEMA or any other agency that they purport to represent and confirm whether or not they are legitimate.  The same goes for a representative of your insurance agency.  Call your insurance company to confirm the identity of the person purporting to represent the insurance company.  Don’t hire any contractors, particularly those who contact you personally at your home, by phone or over the Internet unless you have verified that they are properly licensed, insured and that there are not numerous complaints against them.  This information can generally be obtained online from your state’s licensing board.  Finally, never give your credit card or other information to a telephone caller soliciting for a charity.  It is important to remember that although legitimate charities may call you even if you are on the federal Do Not Call list, you never can be sure when a telephone charitable solicitation is made as to whether the particular caller is legitimate or not.  If you are interested in donating to a particular charity that contacts you, first go to www.charitynavigator.org to find out whether or not the charity is legitimate as well as to learn how much of your donation will actually go toward the charitable works of the charity and how much goes to salaries and administrative costs of the charity.  Once you have determined if you want to donate to a particular charity, the safest way to do so is by going to their website directly.

Scam of the day – October 11, 2012 – Think Pink Scams

Although National Think Pink day, the national day of breast cancer awareness, will not be coming up until next week, it is not too early to warn people about the scams that will be tied to this day.  Breast cancer is a terrible scourge and many legitimate charities and foundations are soliciting contributions to assist in the fight against breast cancer.  Unfortunately, many of the contacts that you may receive through phone calls, snail mail and email may be from scammers who have no intention of using your contribution for anything other than lining their own pockets.

TIPS

Charitable phone solicitation are allowed by law even if you are on the Do-Not-Call List, but if you do receive a charitable solicitation by phone you have no way of knowing from whom it is coming and whether indeed they are legitimate or fake.  In fact, many legitimate charities hire telemarketers who are paid a portion of what they collect as a commission so if you really want more of your contribution to go to a legitimate organization, send it directly to the organization through its website or through snail mail.  You also may wish to confirm that the charity is a legitimate charity by going to www.charitynavigator.org which is  a free website that will not only tell you if the charity soliciting from you is legitimate, but also how much of its funds go toward its charitable goals and how much goes for fundraising and salaries.  Some “legitimate” charities spend an inordinate amount of money on the salaries of its officers.