Saturday, May 30, 2009

Charity Scams Busted Nationwide

Most Americans embrace the philosophy of helping others in their time of need. In every disaster -- whether it is in this country or anywhere in the world -- Americans are there to help those who need a helping hand. Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of this, which has led to an ever-growing problem with charity fraud.

One of the more popular charity causes is to support the public service organizations, which are on the front lines of protecting the rest of us. Sadly enough, charity fraudsters are impersonating organizations that raise money to support fire fighters, policemen, and members of the armed forces.

Often, the line between an outright scam and the deceptive marketing of charitable causes is a little blurry. There are a lot of services-for-profit that market charitable causes for a cut of the proceeds. Unfortunately, some of them get too greedy when taking their cut.

To combat this growing problem, the Federal Trade Commission, along with dozens of state law enforcement officials, announced Operation False Charity on May 20th. Operation False Charity is a crackdown on fraudulent telemarketers, who claim to be gathering money on behalf of police, firefighters and veteran’s charities.

In keeping with the FTC tradition of educating the public, they are also releasing a lot of educational materials about charity fraud. They even provide a lot of these materials in Spanish.
Warning signs of scams, and what you should do about them:

• High pressure pitches. Reject them: It’s okay to hang up.

• A “thank you” for a pledge you don't remember making. Be skeptical. Scam artists will lie to get your money.

• Requests for cash. Avoid giving cash donations.

• Charities that offer to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your money.

• Charities that guarantee sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution.

• Charities that spring up overnight, especially those that involve current events like natural disasters, or those that claim to be for police officers, veterans, or firefighters. They probably don't have the infrastructure to get your donations to the affected area or people.

To assist the public in learning how to avoid being taken when giving money to a charitable cause, the FTC has a lot of tips to identify a potential scam. Here again, these tips are provided in Spanish, too.

Individuals are not the only ones targeted by charity fraudsters. Frequently businesses are targeted, also. One way businesses are targeted is by being solicited to buy advertising in publications that look like they're sponsored by nonprofit groups. Just because the publication may use words like "firefighter," "police," or "veteran" doesn't necessarily mean they are affiliated with these groups. The prudent thing is to check out any unknown charity with a site like NASCO (National Association of State Charity Officials), which provides resources to identify legitimate charities throughout the country.

The results are starting to come in from the efforts put forth in Operation False Charity. On Friday, Jerry Brown, the California AG, announced they have filed eight law suits on 53 people, 17 telemarketers, and 12 charities accused of squandering millions of dollars of charity money intended to support policemen, fire fighters, and veterans. According to the announcement, the so-called agencies involved had bloated overheads and even purchased a 30-foot sail boat with the money they collected.

Thus far, 76 law enforcement actions against 32 fundraising companies, 22 non-profits or purported non-profits on whose behalf funds were solicited, and 31 individuals throughout the United States have been initiated as a result of Operation False Charity. Also included in this total are two FTC actions against alleged fake non-profits and the telemarketers making the calls.

If you want to learn more about how to make your donations count, you can visit the special site the FTC has put up on this subject. Furthermore if you spot what you suspect is charity fraud, contact your State Attorney General or local consumer protection agency.

Other recognized places to ensure a charity is legitimate are the American Institute of Philanthropy, Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and CharityNavigator.

You also may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting the page on their site, or calling toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.