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Charity Fraud and On-Line Hoaxes – A Real Problem

Charity fraud and charity hoaxes – chances are you or someone you know has experienced one or the other. But, you don’t have to fall prey to these schemes created by unscrupulous people. There are many legitimate charities and projects that truly deserve our help. You just have to do your homework first before taking out your wallet.

Avoiding E-Mail Hoaxes
Some people have taken advantage of the internet’s tremendous ability to reach out to people by circulating false charity chain letters. Who hasn’t seen the pitiful e-mails filled with stories of terminal illness? Perhaps you’ve seen the “George Arlington (Rachel Arlington) Hoax,” which claims that AOL will donate 3 cents to cancer research for every e-mail that gets forwarded. Then there’s the “Jasmine Thomas Hoax” that claims the American Red Cross will donate 10 cents for every forward.

Though harmless in one sense since no money is fraudulently collected, these scams are indeed shameful. They drag innocent individuals into a lie that can embitter their belief in a true story of need. When one person gets caught in the web of lies by forwarding the hoaxes to others, the scam continues to do harm.

AOL, the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and the Make a Wish Foundation, all national organizations that have been mentioned in charity hoax e-mails, have made statements that they do not participate in such scams. Before you believe, and then forward, a story that ends up in your in-box, check out the Hoax Slayer. Here’s what Hoax Slayer says about such scams, “Hoaxes like this one are not harmless. They weaken the power of email and the Internet as a tool for disseminating information about genuine projects.”

Avoiding Charity Fraud
Charity fraud, which can be done on-line, over the phone, or in the regular mail, is a more serious problem because some folks actually make a financial contribution to what they think is a real charity. Though charity fraud is not completely new, the incidence of fraud increased greatly after the 9/11 attacks because it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t charity-minded.

The Federal Trade Commission has initiated a program to help consumers identify and avoid fraudulent solicitations. Their advice is to treat your charitable donation with the same caution as you would make a personal investment.

First, you should reduce the amount of solicitations you receive by placing your name and telephone number on the national Do Not Call list. Then, if you get a phone call from an organization that is well-known (American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society), hang up and make a phone call directly to the organization. Ask to speak with someone in the Foundation or Development office and find out if they are conducting a fundraising campaign. Many organizations do conduct perfectly legitimate campaigns to raise needed funds.

You can also check for legitimacy at Charity Navigator, a website that analyzes charitable organization’s activity and financial information. Or, you can check out GuideStar, which not only provides detailed information about legitimate charities, but allows you to make secure donations to the charity of your choice.

As with everything in life, don’t make a charitable donation without doing your homework first. You’ll be glad you did.

Hoax Slayer List of Charity E-Mail Hoaxes
Charity Navigator
GuideStar
Federal Trade Commission Charity Fraud Information
National Do Not Call List

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