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How to Beat the Scams

THOUGH generosity abounds during the holiday season, unfortunately so do scams.

From knock-off charities to itinerant boiler-room operations, such scams tend to emerge at this time of year. Last week, for example, the FBI began arresting 422 people in 15 states on suspicion of preying on the elderly through phone fraud.

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But most charities are honest and accountable. Only about 1 percent of all money given to charities is either collected under false pretenses or misused by dishonest individuals, according to the National Charities Information Bureau (NCIB) in New York.

Still, watchdogs advise, never send cash or give credit-card numbers to strangers over the phone. Pay only by check or money order made out to the charity.

Here are some common scams surfacing this holiday:

* If you get a letter saying you've pledged money to a charity and you didn't, toss it. No worthwhile charity will ever send you a dunning letter without a genuine pledge.

* Beware of charities that call and want to send someone to your door to collect a contribution. Request information in writing. This will scare off many dishonest solicitors.

* Hang up on callers who tell you that you've won a large amount of money or other valuable prize - like a car - from a charity in a drawing or contest you never entered.

* Watch out for fraudulent solicitors who tell you they're raising money for, say, American troops in Bosnia. ''Anytime you get a catastrophe and you tie it to the flag,'' these scams are going to happen, says NCIB spokesman Daniel Langan.

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* Don't be fooled by look-alike charities, with names similar to well-known organizations. Some may be legitimate charities, but this is a common ploy of fraudulent groups.

If you suspect dishonest fund-raising practices, contact your state regulatory office, usually the attorney general's office or the secretary of state's office.

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