here’s demons amongst us! As tends to happen after even a minor upheaval, the combination of mild earth quaking and Hurricane Irene (with more yet to come) has some people on their knees praying, hoping to ward off more problems, and others preying in the ugliest possible way.
I figured it was time for a reprise on a old topic: FRAUD
It is part of the Human Condition that the wily will find the soft underbellies of the weak and launch an all-out attack at a moment’s notice. The current weather issues across the country have opened up scores of new opportunities for the base among us to rip us off. Back in May of this year the FTC posted this warning:
FTC Warns Consumers: Charity and Home Repair Scams May Appear After a Disaster
After flooding along the Mississippi River and tornadoes in the southeast and midwest, the Federal Trade Commission reminds consumers that scams often follow disasters. The nation’s consumer protection agency warns consumers about urgent appeals for charitable donations, and cautions residents in stricken areas about fraudulent home repair offers.
Insurance settlements and other relief are crucial for homeowners and businesses, but these funds also attract criminals. If you are asked in person, by phone, e-mail or postal mail to make a donation, consider these tips about giving wisely:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
- If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
- Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never send cash: you can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation.
- Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
Fraudsters aim at disaster-affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners’ insurance settlements and federal government relief. Home and business owners who are considering whether to hire a contractor should:
- Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
- Check the contractor’s identification and references.
- Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.
- Deal with reputable people in your community.
- Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.
For more information, see Disaster Recovery, Charity Fraud, Charity Checklist, and Charitable Donations: Give or Take?.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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I suspect my regular readers know where I’m going with this, but I’m going to lay it all out again anyway. Please, if you are approached for a donation or for emergency help with a repair to your farm or home, think twice. Look up the information that is publicly available before you jump on what appears to be either a much-needed lifeline (it rarely is) or someone in dire need (they sometimes are, but often not). If it's a local contractor or charity, call the BBB or Chamber of Commerce in your area and check with them for reports of improper conduct.
And if you are still blind-sided and wind up on the upwind side of a scam artist, dial first and ask questions later. The numbers above are there for your protection, not just for the amusement of bored government employees. Email, fax documentation, report abuses, and generally whine and complain until the fraud is exposed and wiped from the face of the planet like the slime mold it is. Every state has a Department of Consumer Affairs. Google the state where your questionable charity or disaster recovery scammer is operating and look them up on the public listings. Seriously, people, you can’t still be naïve enough to give in to every slick-talker who crosses your path...can you?
Several possible frauds have been brought to my attention, and as time goes by and I can verify the information, I will share the public portions publicly. For now, all I can say is You Are Smarter Than That! Go out there and prove it.