It’s a sad fact that many scam artists see the holiday season as open season for fraud. At this time of year, many of us will notice an increase in requests from legitimate charitable organizations, but it’s important to be careful. Among the many excellent charities reaching out to their members are those who see this as a season of taking, not giving.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that one in seven Americans is a victim of fraud every year, and the elderly are often prime targets. Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life, warns against being duped through charity scams. “Scammers often use sound-alike names of well-known and respected charities,” he says. “Sometimes they invent ones purporting to help with four ‘hot-button’ causes that target older donors in particular: police and firefighters, sick or needy children, victims of recent natural disasters, and veterans.”
There are certain steps you can take, however, to reduce the risk of fraud. First of all, you probably remember which organizations and charities have been the beneficiaries of your donations in the past. If you are getting requests from unfamiliar charities, do some research. Who are they? Where are they? How did they find you? If you get the solicitation by email, be especially careful and don’t click on any links that are embedded in that message.
If someone calls you for support of a certain charity unknown to you, ask them to send you the paperwork in advance before agreeing to any donation. Make sure you ask them for their contact information as well. That way you can follow up yourself and do more detective work.
The Maine Office of Securities can help you identify which organizations are legitimate. Their office has many materials available and they are more than happy to answer your questions about fraud or identity theft. You can contact the Maine Office of Securities through their excellent website at www.maine.gov or call 1-877-624-8551 (toll free in Maine) or 207-624-8551.
The Maine Fraud Prevention Alliance (MFPA), a group of local businesses and organizations, also offers consumers effective tools to help stop scam artists in their tracks. The Alliance uses a self-defense kit with an easy to remember acronym – DASH – as a reminder of steps one can take to prevent fraud: Delete unsolicited email and texts; Ask for credentials from door-to-door salespeople; Shred junk mail; and Hang-up unsolicited calls. You can learn more at www.dashfraud.org.
This season, take the time to verify the background of each charity who contacts you and if you suspect foul play, report it to the authorities. By being our own best watchdog, we can help ourselves, and each other, avoid being scammed. Remember: scam artists are creative and they are relentless! You’ve worked hard for your money and if an organization is lucky enough to gain your support, you want to be certain that your generous gift is going to the right place.
Photo: via AARP