The office of Bucks County Consumer Protection would like to advise consumers of charity fraud. When a disaster such as an earthquake or flood happens overseas or in the United States people tend to come together and help with time and money. Unfortunately, scammers also set up immediately. They are especially effective when they set up fake websites or send bogus emails that look like they are from officially established organizations. Then they usually have a link that will take the unsuspecting donor to the scammer's site. There they ask for a donation either through credit cards or by asking for direct access to your banking information. Not only is fraud an issue but if a charity is poorly run the donations may not be used for your intended purpose. Your donations should really go to established organizations that are prepared for large-scale disasters. The Red Cross is an example of a charitable organization that has an immediate impact. They have the infrastructure, expertise, and people with experience.
How to Stay Safe from Charity Fraud
There are practical steps for donating that everyone should follow. Be skeptical of unsolicited phone calls, emails, or links on social networking sites asking for donations. Do not give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. That information could make you vulnerable to identity theft.
All charities who raise over $25,000 a year must register with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Charitable Bureau Division. They can be reached at 800-732-0999. Again, stay away from links from emails. Go directly to the official website or look up a verified phone number of the charity you may be considering using. Always ask what percentage of your donation will actually be used for the service of those in need.
Federal Sweepstakes Law
The law strictly prohibits these false representations in sweepstakes promotions:
- Any seal, name, or term that implies federal government endorsement
- A fake check, unless marked as non-negotiable and has no cash value
- That an entry must be sent in with payment
- That the recipient is a "winner"
- That the recipient must make a purchase to receive future sweepstakes mailings
- That the recipient must order to enter
- Always check the feedback pages on an auction site before buying or selling
- Be very cautious when dealing with sellers in other countries. Limitations because of distance and legal systems can make resolution impossible
- Internet fraud has skyrocketed
- Know who you are dealing with, and what the product is
- Many auction sites have a complaint department set up to deal with problems
- Many credit card companies have special online credit cards which you can use that have the same protections as regular credit cards
- Prosecution on cases of Internet fraud is extremely difficult
- The safest way to buy something online is through the use of a credit card
- Using an escrow agent is a great way to protect yourself, and the cost is marginal for the peace of mind
To report online fraud call 800-876-7060 or file online at Fraud.org. This is a clearinghouse that will send your complaint to the appropriate authorities.