Thursday, January 6, 2005                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

As Montanans Open Hearts and Wallets to Tsunami Victims, Morrison Cautions Against Fraudulent Schemes State Auditor Urges Consumers to Give Only to Reputable Charities and Relief Organizations


      (HELENA) - As Montana citizens give time and money in support of tsunami disaster relief efforts, Montana State Auditor John Morrison today asked them to be on the look out for potential scams pretending to be charities.
      
      A new breed of email scams is exploiting the generosity of people who have rushed online to donate money to the relief effort. The first of the tsunami cons have already hit inboxes in America and Britain. One is a modification of the classic Nigerian scam letter, but another is a more sophisticated scam in which potential donors receive an email luring them into making donations to a fake website by giving their financial information.
      
      "The best way to know whether you're dealing with a scam artist is whether you contacted them or they contacted you," said Morrison. "If they are coming directly to you through email messages or direct solicitation, this suggests a scam. The legitimate charities are so busy taking in money from people coming to them, they won't be reaching out to people this way. I encourage people to delete these messages immediately if they receive them."
      
      Morrison warned that con artists try to steal money in many different ways ranging from telemarketing scams to door-to-door sales pitches. He warned that residents should always contact the charity directly rather than responding to questionable emails or unsolicited phone calls. Charities highlighted in the news media are also generally safe bets because journalists have already checked out the legitimacy of the charity. To file a complaint, people can contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
      
      "It's important that our contributions count," said Morrison. "Scam artists who take advantage of people in these situations are creative and resourceful, and we need to be aware of the scams so that they can be prevented." John Morrison offers the following tips on spotting and avoiding scams:
      
      Tips for Spotting Charity Scams
      

  • Ask for the name of the charity if a telephone solicitor does not provide it promptly.
  • Ask what percentage of your donation will support the cause described in the solicitation.
  • Verify that the charity has authorized the solicitation. Check out a complete list of charities by logging on to www.give.org. Several organizations with active relief efforts underway are:
  • American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
  • CARE: www.careusa.org
  • Catholic Relief Services: www.catholicrelief.org
  • Christian Children's Fund: www.christianchildrensfund.org
  • Doctors Without Borders USA: www.doctorswithoutborders.org
  • Oxfam America: www.oxfamamerica.org
  • US Fund for UNICEF: www.unicefusa.org
  • Do not give out personal or financial information - including Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers - to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists can use this information to commit fraud against you.
  • Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax- deductible.
  • Do not give cash. For security and tax record purposes, it is best to pay by check - made payable to the organization.
  • Ask for identification if you are approached in person.
  • Watch out for groups or individuals playing on emotional appeals and pressuring you to give on the spot.
  • Watch out for charities with titles similar to legitimate groups. They may try to deceive consumers by playing on name recognition.
  • If a person avoids or fails to answer any question you ask, it may be a scam.