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Telemarketer Scams Praying On Misfortune

Beware of post-disaster charity scams

Telemarketer Scams Praying On MisfortuneFollowing disasters like the Oklahoma tornado, scam charities are quick to exploit the tragedy and misery, cynically tugging on heartstrings to line their own pockets. Consumers everywhere should be on guard.

“For those folks around the country who want to donate funds to help families in Oklahoma, please be alert and only donate to reputable relief charities such as the Salvation Army or the Red Cross,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. “The first scam we typically see after devastation like this is charity fraud.”

Scam operators may come at you a number of different ways. They may operate bogus charities that contact people by telephone to solicit money or financial information. Potential victims might receive an email to steer them to bogus websites to solicit funds, allegedly for the benefit of tragedy victims.

Sometimes these fraudulent websites are hard to distinguish from those of of legitimate charities. Sometimes they adopt a name that sounds familiar, similar to a charity you’ve heard of.

Identity theft

Sometimes they’re after more than a simple donation. Sometimes they want your identity. After obtaining your personal information, they may clean out your bank account or open credit accounts in your name.

On its website the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has an Exempt Organizations Select Check tool. You can use it to identify qualified charities. Only donations to qualified charitable organizations are tax-deductible.

You can also find legitimate charities on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Web site.

Iowa sting

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has waged a lengthy and successful campaign against questionable charity fundraisers who call residents of his state. He recently obtained a court order barring a Florida telemarketer from operating in Iowa.

In an ongoing sting operation, Miller obtained the Des Moines telephone number of an elderly resident and set it up with a recorder and one of his officers. When the telemarketer, claiming to be from A Child’s Dream Foundation, called with its pitch, Miller recorded it and presented it as evidence. The audio of the call, posted on Miller’s website, serves as a good example of how these pitches work.

The telemarketer was Telequal LLC. Its representative “outright lied” in the call, Miller said.

“She said she was calling from the charity, claimed that the charity focused primarily on sick Iowa kids, and also claimed that a lot of each donation went to the kids,” Miller said. “In truth, the call was coming from Telequal. They were asking for money for an out of state charity that has no special Iowa focus, and 85% of every dollar donated went to the telemarketer, not to sick kids.”

What to do

Never respond to charity appeals from telemarketers. Legitimate charities don’t work that way.

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