The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 11, 2012

Scam alert: Shysters look to cash in on Sandy

By Jennifer Peltz and Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press

By Joanne Arbogast

The Daily Item


Before you donate to charities that claim to help military veterans or victims of Hurricane Sandy, first ask questions about the organization soliciting a contribution.

“Pennsylvanians are generous and want to do all they can to help the brave men and women who have defended our country, particularly around Veterans Day,’’ said Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 1,034,000 veterans, the fourth-most of any state, which is one reason many veterans’ assistance organizations are located in the commonwealth. Aichele emphasized there are many reputable organizations in Pennsylvania that do help veterans.

But there are others that do not.

“In addition, Pennsylvania residents want to help our neighbors in New York and New Jersey who are suffering from the impact of the recent storm,” Aichele said. “While most charities are reputable and deliver most of the money they solicit to the causes they support, unfortunately some are not.”

Aichele’s department oversees charitable organizations.

“Natural disasters are unfortunately out of our control,” said Kase Chong, director of marketing for Scambook, an online complaint resolution platform. “However, something that we can control is how we help the victims of those disasters. This could mean donating money, food, clothes or other essential supplies that will help provide relief to disaster victims.”

If you’re not familiar with an organization asking for a donation, do as much research as you can to learn more about the organization. Also ask how much of your donation will actually go toward providing relief for victims as opposed to fund-raising expenses or administrative costs.

Also ask for a phone number to call, a website to visit, or literature for more information.

“If someone soliciting donations is unwilling to give you this information, it should be a red flag about donating money to that group,” Aichele said.

In addition to requesting information from an individual soliciting a donation, people can visit the Department of State website at www.dos.state.pa.us, and click on “Charities,” then “Information for Consumers,” or call (800) 732-0999 for the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations hot line to find out if a charity is registered with the state. Websites like guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org are also great resources you can use to research legitimate charities.

In addition, here are some tips from Scambook.com to help you feel more confident when you make donations and help you make sure your money, time and effort are going to real organizations.

Don’t believe emails from supposed victims

Emails are one of the primary tools that fraudsters use to fool unsuspecting people. Their tactics don’t change for disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Be extremely careful with any emails you receive or videos you see online from someone claiming to be a victim. Never send personal or financial information, or wire money, to someone who has emailed you out of the blue.

Don’t give in to pressure to donate

A legitimate charity will not pressure or rush you to donate immediately. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s OK to say “no.” Also, you should never provide any personal information, such as your Social Security number or banking information, over the phone. Real charities will gladly accept donations by check.

Keep an eye out for unusual charges on your phone bill

Sending a donation through a text message is actually a common form of payment used by real charities, so you can expect to see the amount charged to your phone bill. However, if you see additional unexpected charges, you may be a victim of fraud and should contact your phone service provider immediately.

Don’t believe them if you don’t remember donating

Fraudsters will often try to trick you by contacting you and thanking you for your past donation, hoping that you will trust their solicitation more. If you don’t remember ever pledging money to their organization, this is a big warning sign to hang up or not respond.

Don’t let imposters fool you

Fake charities commonly use logos or names similar to more widely known and established charity organizations. If anyone claims to be associated with a more well-known charity and tries to get you to donate, be sure to call the official organization for confirmation.

Don’t give your money to pick up services or use cash

If a supposed charity says they will accept your payment by sending a courier or pick up service, this is a sign of fraud and you should not donate. In addition, if they say they will take cash donations, this is also a red flag.