REGION – Criminals are working hard diverting money away from those in need: case in point, the Ukraine. People around the world are answering the call for assistance by donating to charities addressing the crisis and, thus, creating a “perfect storm” for scammers that focusses on tragedy, human suffering, emotion, and fear. What’s legitimate? What’s a scam? Here are some steps to take before clicking “Donate Now:”
1) Don’t click on notices that appear in pop-up windows or on social media sites. These are favored places for criminals.
2) Research the charity. How long has it been in existence? A long history means a track record. Who are the people behind the organization? Check their profiles online. They likely have credentials showing other similar involvements.
3) Refer to online charity rating services. Even a well-known program can have a less than stellar record. Here are a few reputable organizations that rate charities based on transparency and financial activity: Better Business Bureau; Charity Navigator; Charity Watch; Consumer Reports; and GuideStar.
4) Request a pledge card (mailed or downloaded on your computer). Pay by check or use a credit card to provide traceable records. Credit cards provide some protection against scams; a check gives you a traceable address that can be investigated if a scam is suspected. Avoid online donations and never give out personal financial data unless you can absolutely verify the legitimacy of the solicitor. Similarly, avoid donating with cash transfer programs, gift cards, or money orders. Having a clear pathway for the donation between you and the recipient is advisable. Charity scams create multiple victims: the donor, the intended recipients, legitimate charities. Don’t allow your emotions to control you. Taking a few precautionary steps will ensure that your donation will reach the intended recipients.
Scam Roundup: Here are some of the current scams appearing in our region.
Vehicles: Availability of vehicles is an issue for consumers and dealerships. Shortages are seen throughout the region when driving by dealership display lots. Sadly, some car dealers have charged buyers extra fees or required the purchase of special features. Others have raised vehicle prices well above the suggested manufacturer’s retail prices and some have used “bait and switch” tactics. Beware of flood-damaged vehicles: new cars that were repaired after suffering flood damage. Ask for and check the vehicle history before signing on the dotted line. This will tell you where the car or truck has been on its route from manufacturer to get to you. If you are the target of any of the tactics noted here, walk away from the deal and report the dealership to your state Attorney General’s office and the vehicle manufacturer.
Artificial Intelligence Calls: The phone rings and “Jennifer” asks if you want to lower your credit card interest rate. Say yes and she continues asking questions and then forwards your call to an agent. The conversation to this point has actually been between you and a computer programmed to recognize specific words or prompts and respond appropriately. If the call recipient responds with a comment that is not programmed into the software, “Jennifer” may say, “Could you repeat that?” The best way to handle this situation is to simply hang up. The call is most likely a scam.
Medicare Advantage Plans: Medicare Advantage Plan promotion is back. Nightly TV advertisements promote the benefits of these plans but some offers are received on the phone or on a computer may be scams. Medicare Advantage Plans must be approved by Medicare. Determine the legitimacy and cost of plans at the website www.medicare.gov. Use the link that is provided for your state to compare all available plans. Responding to advertisements opens you up to some unwanted issues. Your call grants the advertiser permission to market programs to you without restriction. Reaching out to any one program will also result in receiving information for that program. You would need to contact each of the other available programs in your state in order to comparison shop for what is best for you.
Questions or concerns? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network.