May 23, 2008                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

MORRISON CAUTIONS AGAINST FRAUDULENT SCHEMES, AS MONTANANS OPEN HEARTS AND WALLETS TO CYCLONE, EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS


      State Auditor Urges Consumers to Give Only to Reputable Charities and Relief Organizations
      
      With two major disasters striking back-to-back halfway around the world, State Auditor John Morrison today reminded Montanans to be on the look-out for potential scams pretending to be natural disaster charities. In the past, scam organizations have sprung up just hours after a disaster to solicit donations using e-mail, telemarketing, and other methods.
      
      “Americans are the most generous people in the world -- when disaster strikes, we readily open our hearts and wallets to help,” said Morrison. “Unfortunately, scam artists know this and see opportunities as well. They come out of the woodwork with every disaster, promising to do good, while plotting only to enrich themselves by stealing money meant for relief efforts or fraudulently obtaining consumers' sensitive financial information.”
      
      Morrison warned that con artists try to steal money in many different ways ranging from e-mail scams to telemarketing sales pitches. He warned that residents should always contact the charity directly rather than responding to questionable emails or unsolicited mailings or phone calls.
      
      Fraudulent organizations sprang up literally overnight after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. According to the FBI, after the hurricane hit, there were more than 2,300 Katrina-related Web sites. That was double the number just two days earlier. And of the 800 sites the FBI investigated, roughly 60 percent were thought to be scams.
      
      After the tsunami of 2004, a new breed of email scams exploited the generosity of people who rushed online to donate money to the relief effort. The first of the cons hit inboxes in America and Britain within days of the disaster. One was a modification of the classic Nigerian scam letter, but another was a more sophisticated phishing scam in which potential donors received 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. Do your homework to make sure you’re not contributing your hard-earned cash to a con artist. ”
      
      The easiest place to research a nonprofit is to use the Web. A good site to start looking at charities is the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Give.org, which lets you look up BBB-like reports on charities. Charities that have been highlighted in the news media are also generally safe bets because journalists have already checked out the legitimacy of the charity. To conduct research or file a complaint, people can contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org or at 703-276-0100.
      
      Morrison participated in U.S.-China insurance dialogues in China just days after the earthquake struck. Catastrophe insurance was on the agenda.
      
      “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
      

  • Be careful about giving online, especially in response to unsolicited e-mail, which may contain links to phony Web sites that resemble those of well-known charities.
      
  • 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 maintained by the Better Business Bureau. Several organizations with active relief efforts underway are:
      
      ~ The American Refugee Committee: www.arcrelief.org
      
      ~ 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
      
      ~ U.S. 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.