Tips to Avoid Charity Scams
- Chose a trusted organization. Avoid new agencies that have been established for the specific crisis. Be cautious of organizations with names similar to well-known charities.
- Be on the lookout for phony emails, phone calls, social media accounts and crowdfunding requests. That includes email attachments from familiar contacts.
- Evaluate the charity. If you are unsure about a particular organization, ask for the official name, phone number and website. Then you can verify the agency via reputable websites like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, etc. (see list below). A legitimate nonprofit will be happy to give you time to verify their mission.
- Understanding crowdfunding requests. Some examples of crowdfunding websites are GoFundMe, YouCaring, Kickstarter, etc. Most of these sites do very little vetting in regards to donation requests. In some instances, scammers start donation requests for a “friend” or “family” that actually have nothing to do with that person. Unless you know the person personally and can verify that the funds will go to them, forgo that donation.
- Avoid giving cash. Cash can be lost or stolen. A check or credit card record is helpful for tax purposes. DO NOT give out your credit card/bank information to a solicitor. If you write a check, make sure it’s made out to the organization NOT a person soliciting on behalf of the agency.
- Ask questions. How will the money be spent? What percentage of donations go to the people and how much goes to overhead or fundraising? You may want to compare these costs between different nonprofits before making a decision. You also have the right to make your donation a “designated donation”, which means the organization can only use your donation for what you designate. Just make sure you notate that in writing.
- Scammers will attempt to keep you on the phone
- The calls will not come from the pretend victim’s phone
- They will try to keep you from calling the person who has been “kidnapped”
- The ransom money will need to be paid by wire transfer to Mexico
- The ransom amounts might drop quickly
- Hang up the phone
- Don’t use your loved one’s name
- Ask to speak with the “kidnapped” victim directly. If they do talk, listen to the voice carefully.
- Do not share information about yourself or family
- Ask only questions the “victim” would know
- Attempt to contact the supposed victim and ask them to call you from their cell phone
- Slow the scammers down by repeating their instructions, tell them you need time to get the money together
- Do not agree to pay the ransom demands, by wire transfer or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous
NEW Social Security Scam
Gift Card Fraud
If you buy gift cards…use caution! Don’t judge the card by its package. Let me tell you about Kenneth. He has two grandsons in another state that he does not get to see as often as he would like. So for holidays and special occasions he likes to send them a gift to say he is thinking of them. During Christmastime, he purchased a major brand gift card from a big box store and mailed it to his grandsons. Of course being so young, their mother was responsible for the gift card. Once, she opened the sealed packaging, she realized that her dad and sons had been scammed. A scammer took a photocopy of the original card’s barcode, affixed that to a different, worthless gift card, and put that into the packaging. Just with a quick glance, everything looked legit. Now all the scammer had to do was wait for money to be loaded on to it. According to a unit chief with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it is very easy for scammers to see when the gift cards are activated because they use computer software that constantly checks the card balance.
A couple of extra seconds spent looking at the visible barcode and Kenneth would have noticed that it was a fake. How many of us actually take the time to flip over a sealed, intact cardboard package? What about the stack of loose gift cards that stare at us while in the checkout line? How simple is it to grab a couple and copy the numbers? Once again, the scammer just has to sit back and wait for money to be loaded on it. Here are some tips to protect yourself and the recipient of your gift.
- Double-check the packaging. Does it look like it has been tampered with?
- Look at the barcode on the back. It should be shiny not dull.
- The FBI suggests purchasing the gift cards straight from the retailer online. Scammers do not have access to these cards.
- Avoid purchasing gift cards displayed in the open. If you must, chose one from the middle of the stack.
- Always keep your purchase receipt AND activation receipt just in case there is a problem. Ensure that the gift card number matches the one on your activation receipt.
- Reputable bill collectors, online sellers, law enforcement and/or government officials will NEVER ask you to pay via gift cards.
Source: Consumer Reports, Giftcards.com & CBS News
- Notify your bank. Traveling out of state or overseas while using your bankcard could cause a fraud alert to appear and suspend your account. A quick phone call can prevent this hassle.
- Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
- Avoid stand-alone ATMS’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection.
- Stay on guard even in your hotel. If you receive a phone call from the “front desk” asking you to confirm your payment method, hang up. It’s a scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to come to the front desk.
- Stay alert. Identity thieves’ techniques evolve. Especially in the technological age but some will always rely on good old-fashioned pickpocketing. Safeguard your wallet, purse and phones.
- Save the social media posts. Wait until you are home to share the photos of your family vacation. You don’t want to announce when your home will be empty.
- Make sure you place a hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspapers in your driveway are sure signs no one is home.
- Only take what you will need. Leave the extra credit/bank cards at home. Do you really need your social security card with you? Birth certificate? If not, leave it at home.
- Take photocopies or a picture of all the information in your wallet. That includes front and back photos of your credit/bank cards, I.D., passport, etc. Keep the copies in a safe place, not your wallet or purse.
- Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Free means open airwaves and everything you do is transmitted over an unsecured connection and makes you vulnerable. Some Wi-Fi connections are fake and are set up by hackers just to steal your information. Always double check with the location to see if it is official.
- Don’t leave expensive or important belongings in the hotel room. Use the safe if one is provided in the room. If not, ask the front desk for another alternative.
- Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-techscammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
- Most importantly, if anything does happen, act fast. Contact the bank or credit card company as well as the credit reporting bureaus. If your ID is stolen, file a police report immediately. This is necessary for creating a paper trail as well as a timeframe for the theft. If traveling overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, they can help you with a replacement. You should also call the local police and file a report.
Spring is the season for home repair and home improvement. Some older homeowners may have a hard time physically and/or financially maintaining their homes. It is because of this that they are targeted by scammers. Most contractors are honest and hardworking but how can you tell? Here are five ways to identify if a contractor is trying to defraud you.
1. “You’ll Need to Pay First”
According to the Better Business Bureau, this is the most common scam reported. The contractor will tell you that materials and equipment need to be ordered. Once you hand over the money, a couple things can happen. One, they disappear. Two, they complete the work carelessly and haphazardly.
2. “Trust Me”
You have hired your contractor, you have sat down and discussed what work you want done and your expectations and the contractor agrees. Now it is time to sign the agreement. You notice some of the details and upgrades are not included. The contractor tells you to “trust me”; it will be taken care of. The next thing you know, the work is not done. Now the contractor tells you that he did not include those extras in the quote he gave you and you will have to pay more money.
3. “We Don’t Need a Permit”
Any significant construction project is required to have building permit. This allows officials to visit occasionally to ensure the work meets safety codes. Dishonest contractors will tell you that a permit is not required. Others will try to have you take out a homeowner’s permit. That would mean lying to authorities about who was doing the work and make you responsible for monitoring the inspections.
4. Unexpected Problems
The construction has started or even finished and suddenly the contractor tells you there were unforeseen issues like termites and now the price has skyrocketed. Sometimes additional fees are legit, but other times dishonest contractors will bid very low to get their foot in the door and then increase the cost later.
5. Extra Materials
This fraud usually comes from paving companies or roofers or painters. They tell you that they have extra materials and they can perform the work dirt-cheap. A couple things can happen. One, they actually do not do the work and take off with your money. Two, they start the work and the job is more involved than they thought and it will cost even more. Third, the work is completed carelessly and in one year your roof is leaking or driveway cracking.
The Legal Aid Society of Middle TN has a detailed booklet about what you need to know before repairing or remodeling your house. Legal Aid Home Repair Booklet. Here are just a few suggestions on how to keep from being a victim of contractor fraud
- Hire contractors currently licensed from the TN Board of Licensing contractors. Call 1-800-544-7693 to verify the license. You can also ask the Board if they have had any complaints.
- Ask the Board if the contractor has paid the insurance bond. This will protect you if the company goes out of business or does shoddy work.
- Use word of mouth. Ask friends, neighbors, etc. for suggestions who did great work.
- Ask for references and verify those references.
- Avoid using a contractor that only has a PO Box or answering service.
- Call the BBB at 615-242-4222 or TN Consumer Affairs Division at 615-741-4737 to see if any complaints have been filed
- Always get more than one bid from different contractors
- Never hire “on-the-spot”
- Never accept a verbal agreement. Always get a written agreement/contract.
- The contract should not have blank spaces.
- The contract should include the license number, address and phone numbers, what work is to be done, what kind of materials, estimated completion date, cost, how you will pay, and if there is interest to be paid.
- Read the contract
- Never pay cash
Sources: Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and www.houselogic.com
Morning Pointe Foundation Presents an Evening with Kim Campbell, wife of Glen Campbell
The deadline is approaching for Nashville property tax assistance programs!
Visit these sites to get help applying for tax assistance:
March 4, from 2 to 4PM at the Farmer’s Market
March 11, from 10AM to 12:30PM at the south precinct of the Metro Nashville Police Department
March 25, from 10:30AM to 1:30PM at First Baptist Church of East Nashville
- Never give out personal information like social security numbers, DOB, etc.
- Never give out financial information like bank account numbers or credit card information
- Do not react out of fear. You have the right to verify any requests for information