One of the scam calls I really dislike is the fake charity call. It goes something like this:
The caller calls, usually in the evening, when we’re eating dinner or trying to spend some quiet time with our families. The solicitor then proceeds to explain that they’re working with the “Dogs for Abused Homeless Children with Leukemia Foundation” or some other worthy-sounding outfit. They want to know if they can “count on you” to help support this national, well-known foundation with a small, one-time donation.
The correct and short answer is NO, and then hang up the phone. If you just can’t resist staying on the phone, ask the caller what percent of the money donated actually goes to the named charity. The usual response is a long pause followed by an admission that 15 to 20 percent goes to the charity. Sometimes the number is below 10 percent. At THAT point, hang up. Don’t be polite, just hang up. It’s clearly a call operation making money, using a charity or a charity front group.
By federal law, the caller must tell you the percent that goes to the named charity. If it’s a legitimate charity, the percent going to the named organization should be 80 percent or more. Unfortunately it gets worse: If the scammers skim off 90 percent of each dollar you give for “administrative” costs — (read, “their profit”) — they then pass only 10 cents of the dollar to the bogus foundation. Often the named bogus foundation also skims 90 percent of that money off for more administrative fees and expenses, leaving only 1 cent that may actually get to a charity organization.
Here’s the triple tragedy
1. Scammers like this make us all very jaded when it comes to donating to charities. Yes, we avoid getting taken, but by being suspicious, we harden our hearts to those truly deserving of our generosity. I love helping people, but I hate being played for a sucker and being taken advantage of. We then tend to, as the old saying goes, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
2. Many of our most vulnerable citizens lose money they need for living expenses. Many seniors are an easy touch for the well-designed pitch of the caller. The story the caller tells is specifically crafted to tug at the heartstrings, and unfortunately, many older people are not unfamiliar with tragedy or hard times. They want to help and give generously, without fully checking out the charity.
3. The charity scams can have a much darker side. Frequently, agreement to give a small donation is only the beginning. The caller gets credit or debit card or bank account information and then proceeds to clean out the bank account or charge the credit card to the max, leading to devastating financial losses for the giver. In this scenario, the target is often told not to tell friends or relatives about their donation, further isolating the giver from those who would help them avoid the scam.
It’s hard to forgive those who call in the name of God. Religion is a very strong hook for older consumers. I personally know of many who have lost tens of thousands of dollars, and some who have willingly handed over almost all of their estates to liars and scammers.
THE LESSON: Give. But give wisely and within your means, but check out the charity. I only consider donating to charities that are willing to send me their information through the U.S. Mail — not email. This allows me to really read about the charity AND if it’s a crooked front group, exposes the group to mail fraud investigation and possible prosecution.
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NW Pony Express Update: I’m still working with ATF and other local law enforcement agencies. One legal beagle has been informing those who left firearms at Pony Express that they might get “pennies on the dollar” for their valuable firearms. That’s total nonsense. Example: If I left my vehicle on your driveway and you declared bankruptcy, any attempt for you to include my vehicle in your bankruptcy would amount to intentionally misrepresenting your assets to the bankruptcy court judge. People go to jail for that kind of monkey business and lawyers get sanctioned or in extreme cases, disbarred. Someone knows where these “consignment guns” are. My suggestion is: You’d better turn them over to the police — NOW. I will keep on this one until it’s resolved.
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MY SINCERE APOLOGY: My wife asked me the other day, “Aren’t you running out of material for your column?” Unfortunately, no. The real problem is that I have too much material. Each week I average between 100 and 150 phone calls from consumers and incoming solicitations, robo-calls and scammers. I answer, or call back ALL consumer calls. Sometimes I can help, sometimes I can’t. The calls come in from just after 5 a.m. to just before 9 p.m. Being the Consumer Guy is not my job, but it is my passion.
If I haven’t solved your problem — I’m sorry. If I haven’t written about your story — there’s just not enough space in the The Press, or any other newspaper to cover every story. Just because I don’t write about it doesn’t mean I don’t work on it and try to solve it.
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REMEMBER: I’m in your corner.
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STAY TUNED: Another column coming in The Press next Monday.
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We’re partners, you the consumers, The Coeur d’Alene Press and me, the Consumer Guy. Between us we can do a lot of good and in the process, save people a lot of money and expose some really bad guys.
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I have many more interesting cases that I’m working on as The CDA Press Consumer Guy. Call me at (208) 699-0506, email me at email@example.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266.Include your full name and a phone number. If you want to listen to some of the more interesting calls I get, go to my blog and click on the link www.cdapressconsumerguy.com. I think you’ll find the recordings both educational AND very entertaining.
I am available to speak about scams and consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups.
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Bill Brooks is the CDA Press Consumer Guy and an active Associate Real Estate Associate Broker for Tomlinson-Sotheby’s International Realty in Coeur d’Alene.