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Con artists take advantage of tragedies

Here are some guidelines for potential donors:

*  Don't give cash.  Legitimate charities will take a check.

*  Don't give credit card, bank account or personal information to
telemarketers.  If you want to give, initiate the call.  Con artists use
tragic times to launch boiler-room telemarketing operations where thieves get
consumers' credit card and identifying information for credit card and
identity fraud.

*  Don't give to Internet appeals.  Traditional frauds have gone electronic
in recent years, giving con artists the ability to contact thousands of
potential victims with a single click of a mouse.  Any charity soliciting
funds should have a street address where donations can be mailed.  If the
appeal is asking for credit card or bank account information for immediate
contributions, consider it a red flag.

*  Don't give in to pressure.  Legitimate charities know that the needs of
disaster victims will not evaporate tomorrow.  Anyone who can't wait for a
donation while you check out his or her organization is likely to be a crook,
not a charity.

*  Expect specific information.  Ask what kind of relief this organization is
going to provide.  Will it provide medical assistance, rescue assistance or
aid to families?  Exactly how does the organization intend to carry out its
mission?  Don't give in to a vague appeal.

*  Check out the charity with national, state and local authorities. 
Established charities register with the Internal Revenue Service.  You can
search specific non-profit organizations on the IRS Web site at 
Go to the site tree, click on "exempt organizations ," then click on "exempt
organizations search."  The site was last updated in July 2001.

*  Beware of newly formed organizations.  If the charity is new, you may have
to rely on your relationship with the company or sponsor of the organization
to determine whether you trust it to use your money as advertised.

*  Report abuses to the nearest Better Business Bureau and to the attorney
general's office in your state.  See SafetyCops At-A-Glance Page.  You can
also report abuses to the National Fraud Information Center at
800-876-7060.  The center also has a Web-based complaint form at

*  Do give.  Needs will be great now and in the months to come.  For more
information about how to check out charities on the Web, visit the following:  or

For more Con Artists Games and SafetyCops Tips visit related SafetyCops

©Chicago Tribune Media Services
23 September 2001

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