Gulf Coast Crises Fuels Scams

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Unfortunately whenever a tragedy occurs, whether it be related to a man-made catastrophe such as what's happening now in the Gulf coast, or as a result of a violent strike from Mother Nature via a tornado, earthquake, tsunami, wild fire, hurricane or flood, con artists come out in full force.  

Without care, con artists will use any crises to launch scams designed to prey on victims, pull on heart-strings and open wallets. They often pretend to be government officials, representatives of FEMA, insurance adjusters or charity representatives collecting on behalf of the victims.  They will do whatever it takes to get their hands on your money or personal information -that they can then easily turn into cash.

The massive and still gushing oil spill has already brought about reports of investment scams, insurance scams and employment scams.

BP has warned that individuals are falsely representing themselves to be BP employees, offering applicants training with promises of job placement for a fee. BP has said they do not charge to train and hire applicants. Florida's AG is warning Floridians to be on the lookout for people posing as authorized insurance adjusters who may be requesting fees for free claims services and investment regulators issued an alert warning against stock scams that promise profits from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup.

With the spill still gushing and fears of an overly active hurricane season added to it, we can only assume a lot more people will be touched by either the horrible effects of the oil spill, or one one of this season's yet to hit hurricanes. Not only does that mean more scams will surface, but so too will the need for genuine assistance from legitimate organizations, agencies and charities.

When deciding to offer up financial assistance to those in need, remember to take the necessary time to verify and confirm the legitimacy of any charity you make donations to. We all realize that charities perform much needed services, but sadly, their funding has already been stretched thin due to the recession. It's important to support a charity and help victims suffering from a crises -but it's equally important to first determine that the  charity you choose is legit and is will get the money straight into the hands of the needy ---especially if you want to make make sure your money stays out of the pockets of greedy scammers.   

The Federal Trade Commission ( has compiled an informative list of warning signs and tips to avoid being conned by a bogus charity scams;  

The Warning Signs of a Charity Scam

The FTC  suggests that you avoid any charity or fundraiser that:

    * refuses to provide written information about its identity, its mission, its costs, and how the donation will be used;
    * will not provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible;
    * uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization;
    * thanks a potential donor for a pledge the person doesn't remember making;
    * asks a potential contributor for bank account or credit card information before the person has reviewed the organization's information and agreed to contribute;
    * uses high-pressure tactics to secure a donation before the potential donor has had a chance to make an informed decision about giving;
    * asks for donations in cash;
    * offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately;
    * guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution.

Charity Checklist

Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit the people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices -- whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers or professional fundraisers -- and whether they solicit donations by phone, mail, online, or in person.

    * Be wary of charities that spring up Sovernight in connection with current events and natural disasters. They may make a compelling case for your money, but as a practical matter, they probably don't have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
    * Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
    * Check to see if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations. If so, check to see if the company you're talking to is registered. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials at Your state office also can verify how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses. You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance ( and GuideStar (
    * Don't be shy about asking who wants your money. Some charities hire professional fundraisers for large-scale mailings, telephone drives, and other solicitations, rather than their own staff or volunteers. They use a portion of the donations to pay the fundraiser's fees. If you're solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don't get a clear answer -- or if you don't like the answer you get -- consider donating to a different organization.
    * Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
    * Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.
    * Make a note on your desk or wall calendar when you donate. That way, when a fundraiser contacts you again, you'll have easy access to the date of your last donation.
    * Trust your gut -- and check your records -- if you have any doubt about whether you've made a pledge or a contribution. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn't make. If you don't remember making the donation or don't have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
    * Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
    * Be wary of charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately.
    * Discuss the donation with a trusted family member or friend before committing the funds.
    * Know the difference between "tax exempt" and "tax deductible." Tax exempt means the organization doesn't have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
    * Do not send or give cash donations.S Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it's best to pay by check -- made payable to the charity, not the solicitor.

Checking Up

You can help a friend or family member locate legitimate charities by checking out the following organizations. They are good sources of free information about charities you may want to support.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance
4200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 276-0100

American Institute of Philanthropy
P.O. Box 578460
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 529-2300

Charity Navigator
1200 MacArthur Boulevard
Mahwah, NJ 07430
(201) 818-1288

4801 Courthouse Street, Suite 220
Williamsburg, VA 23188
(757) 229-4631

For More Information and Complaints

If you believe an organization may not be operating for charitable purposes, or is making misleading solicitations, contact your state Attorney General ( or your local consumer protection agency (

If you think you've been a victim of fraud, report it. It's one way to get even with a scam artist who cheated you. Remember, by reporting your complaint to 1-877-FTC-HELP or, you are providing important information to help law enforcement officials track down scam artists and stop them!To learn more about making charitable donations count, visit

What's the best way to avoid falling victim to a scammer's tricks or traps?
 Be wise to them!  

Stay up-to-date on the latest scams and techniques

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As of today (6-2-10), the oil is approximately 7 miles from our coast (Pensacola). I can already smell a pungent 'aroma' in the air.

What a shame that BP has allowed this situation to drag on for more than a month now and not a plausible remedy in the near future.

Our sugar white sandy beaches and emerald colored water will soon be scarred for years to come. Not the mention the damage in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane.

If the locals were concerned already about the 'lack of residents' due to the housing market and the foreclosure fiascos, then they are surely going to rethink things 'when' the oil lands on our coast and drives our industry away.

What a shame!!!

they did not even stop the oil coming out. its still getting bigger. Its going to kill so many animals. Every one should pray for them.

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