Archive for Monday, September 22, 2008

On heels of hurricane, attorney general warns of charity scams

September 22, 2008


News of Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricane Ike may motivate people to donate to charity, but Kansas Attorney General Steve Six issued a word of caution recently.

Six's office sent out a consumer alert warning potential donors to be careful when giving to charities and to be on the lookout for scams.

"During times of crisis, our office wants to send a clear message that scam artists cannot take advantage of the Kansan's generosity without consequences," Six said in the consumer alert. "At the same time, we hope to inform consumers of key charitable giving tips so they are able to directly deal with suspect solicitors."

According to the attorney general's office, the safest and best way to donate is to give to organizations listed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and USA Freedom Corps Web sites.

The office also provided tips:

¢ Do not send cash.

¢ Never give personal information to a solicitor who insists on gathering credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers. Legitimate organizations are willing to provide written materials about how to donate.

¢ Research the charity using the Web sites of the Better Business Bureau or the IRS.

¢ Make sure the organization actually serves the needs that it claims to serve.

Jane Blocher, executive director of the Red Cross' county chapter, said the Red Cross has several ways of ensuring that donors' funds will assist the victims of a natural disaster. She said donors who want to give online to the Red Cross have only one place to go.

"If they're going to be doing any type of online giving at all, it should only be at," she said. "If they're unsure about that, then another foolproof way of making a donation is to call any chapter in the country. ... We issue receipts and that's another way that the donors are assured that their gift is landing in the appropriate place."

She said some e-mail scam artists will try to mimic the Red Cross by posting words, images or links to Web sites that lead people to believe e-mails are from the Red Cross. She said to be suspicious of e-mails or Web sites with obvious typographical errors, poor grammar or links that include numbers. Other indicators include unsolicited e-mails from senders that play off the Red Cross name, such as

"If any of our potential donors are in the slightest bit suspicious or hesitant to make a donation, call our office and we can walk them through the process. We always honor donor participation and we will make sure their gift gets to where it needs to be," she said.

Blocher said 91 cents of every dollar donated to the Red Cross goes to direct services that provide relief for disaster victims. The remainder pays for administrative costs.

Blocher said the organization currently is focusing on helping to provide shelter, meals and counseling for the victims of Hurricane Ike. She said financial assistance will be a subsequent step to assist families who experienced losses.

"We are still sheltering thousands and thousands and thousands of people," she said. "As of Wednesday, we had served 1.5 million meals. It takes a lot of money to provide those services."

- Education reporter Alexander Parker contributed to this report.


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