September 1, 2005                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

Consumer Alert MORRISON URGES AID FOR HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS; OFFERS TIPS, ENCOURAGES CONSUMERS TO "INVESTIGATE BEFORE YOU DONATE"


      Helena, Mont., September 1, 2005 - In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Auditor John Morrison is reminding Montanans to be wise givers when donating money to relief efforts. As in past disasters, scam artists may disguise themselves as charities to solicit donations fraudulently, Morrison says.
      "Within hours of a disaster, scam artists begin working on their scams by creating bogus fundraising operations," Morrison cautioned. "Whether it's setting up a fake website or fake telemarketing calls, they're busy trying to take advantage of people's generosity. I urge Montanans to use common sense when choosing a charity, so they can be sure their donations actually go toward the victims and not the crooks."
      Morrison warned that con artists try to steal money in a number of ways including credit card fraud, identity theft and the solicitation of donations to phony charities. He warned that residents should always contact the charity directly rather than responding to questionable e-mails 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.
      "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 - Investigate before you donate:

  • 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 Hurricane Katrina relief efforts underway are:
      - American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
      - America's Second Harvest: www.secondharvest.org
      - AmeriCares: www.americares.org
      - Catholic Charities: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org
      - Humane Society of the USA: www.hsus.org
      - MAP International: www.map.org
      - Mercy Corps: www.mercycorps.org
      - Salvation Army: www.salvationarmyusa.org
      - United Way of America: www.unitedway.org
      - World Emergency Relief: www.worldemergency.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.
  • To file a complaint, people can contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).