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Be Watchful for Tragedy Scams & More This Holiday Season

December 9, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. - Many are in the giving spirit during the holiday season, and local consumer advocates applaud these acts of generosity, but they also advise a bit of caution to avoid being scammed. Harold Moldoff is a volunteer fraud fighter with AARP-New Hampshire. He warned people to be especially on guard for unsolicited phone calls this time of year. If you do decide to take the call, he said, don't be shy about asking direct questions like these: "If I donate money to you, how much of the money goes to the actual charity versus your salary? Who pays you? Are you a professional fundraiser?"

Moldoff said don't let yourself to be pressured by callers, and don't provide personal financial data over the phone. Instead, ask callers to send you details in the mail. If they won't mail you something, he said that's a red flag, because scammers often fear running afoul of tough postal fraud laws.

Sound-alike charity scams are another thing to be on guard against; scammers create names that sound almost like real charities, and they often pop up after tragedies, he warned.

"You have these people crawling out from under the rocks after there is a tragic fire, or a hurricane or floods. A fraudulent charity even set up after the Newtown shootings," he said. "It's heartless, and it was a fraud."

While being on the 'Do Not Call' list is a good way to prevent aggravation, don't count on that to protect you, he added.

"It's a volunteer compliance by legitimate businesses and agencies, but certainly if a scammer is calling from someplace in Jamaica or Mexico, they're not going to have any consideration at all for the 'Do Not Call' list," he said, "because they'll completely ignore it."

A recent Supreme Court ruling allows groups to spend as much as 99 percent of revenue on fundraising and administration and still call themselves charities. That's why he advised consumers to check with the Better Business Bureau and monitoring organizations like Charity Navigator to see how much of their donation will actually go to people in need.

Online assistance with fighting fraud is available from www.CharityNavigator.org, www.Guidestar.org and www.CharityWatch.org. To get help by phone on local charities, call the NH Charitable Trust Unit, 603-271-3591.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH