Better Business Bureau cautions against online charity scammers

In the face of national disasters such as the recent Haitian earthquake and humanitarian crises resulting from the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, many Americans feel one way to help is to give to charitable organizations.

Unfortunately, these events also provide opportunities for scammers.

Cleveland Better Business Bureau President and CEO Sue McConnell, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss what to look out for when evaluating a charity and how to spot charity scammers.

How to vet a charity for scammers

Anytime there is a crisis, charitable opportunities emerge — but not all charities are legitimate. Before a person makes a donation, they should make sure the organization will use the donations for the intended purpose.

McConnell urged listeners to vet any charity to which they contribute. The Better Business Bureau runs Give.org, a site for vetting charities. The organization looks at audited statements, the percentage of funds actually spent on the programs the charity claims to support and fundraising materials to ensure the charity is truthful about the programs they are supporting.

She cautioned listeners away from crowdfunding sites and suggested well-known and well-established organizations that have a history of addressing a particular cause. She suggested listeners research the charity on its website and pay close attention to their annual reports.

If making a tax deductible donation is a priority, make sure the organization is a 501(c)(3) — officially recognized by the IRS as a charitable institution.

For events and organizations that are not local, McConnell cautioned against donating canned goods or other materials and instead contribute money.

She also urged listeners to be wary of charities who claim to be supported by a celebrity. Many times this is not the case, as the celebrity’s name is simply used by the scammer to appear more credible.

Other scams to avoid

McConnell also wanted to highlight “dent scammers,” a new scam in the Cleveland area.

The scam occurs when an individual approaches a victim in a parking lot and claims to work for a body shop. They claim they will fix a dented car at a reduced rate for cash, while the individual does their shopping. The person being scammed, sometimes called the mark, hands over the money, which is usually a couple hundred dollars. The scammer then applies a wax coating to the dent, and explains it needs to be left on the area for a few days. However, when the wax is removed, the dent is still there. By this time, the scammer is long gone and the mark is left a victim, McConnell explained.

She also highlighted a pet sitting scam that typically targets college students or young people. In this scam, the scammer claims to be new to town and has a pet that needs care. They then ask a person to perform this work and for their personal information, typically a social security number or bank account information, on the excuse they want to pay the victim by direct deposit. Sometimes they even provide a fake check that bounces after the mark cashes the check. .

Young people, typically 18 to 24 years old, are the most likely targets for online scams because they do business online and do not tend to research the scams, McConnell said. She urged anyone encountering such a scam to report it to the Better Business Bureau.


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