AVOID FRAUD IN TIMES OF TURMOIL

COLLEGE STATION – With the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City and the attempted destruction of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, the world changed.

A lesson to learn from these recent events is to never let our guard down, in more ways than one.

Although Americans as a whole are pulling together to recover and rebuild from this tragedy, con artists don’t let an opportunity to make a quick buck pass them by. Knowing most Americans want to help in any way possible, schemers are using telephone, e-mail and personal contacts to solicit contributions to support victims of these events. Instead of helping the victims of this tragedy, these thieves are keeping the donations for themselves.

To ensure donation dollars benefit the people and organizations who need it:

– Contribute only to funds with well-known local community links or funds listed in locally or nationally recognized news sources. Never send money or give credit card numbers to a charity which contacts you by telephone unless you personally know it.

– Ask for written information, including the charity’s name, address and telephone number, and proof that contributions are tax deductible. Tax-exempt organizations don’t have to pay taxes, but the organization’s tax-exempt status doesn’t mean donations are tax deductible. If deductibility is important, ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution and stating it is tax deductible.

– Ask for the name and telephone number of the charity the donations are being solicited for. If the caller refuses, hang up. Call the charity which was named. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and if they have authorized the use of their name.

– Watch out for similar-sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations, such as a police or fire department organization.

– Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making, or if you receive an invoice claiming you’ve made a pledge when you know you haven’t. Some unscrupulous solicitors use this approach to get your money.

– Ask how your donation will be distributed. How much will go to the cause you want to support, and how much will cover the charity’s administrative costs? If a professional fund-raiser is used, ask how much it will keep.

– Refuse high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers won’t push. Be wary of offers to send a courier to collect donations immediately. Avoid cash donations which can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Use the official full name of the charity — not initials — on your check.

– Help find and expose fraudulent fund raisers. If you are suspicious, call the sheriff’s office and use the Web page of the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the State Attorney General http://www.oag.state.tx.us/

For a list of legitimate agencies accepting donations, visit the Web site http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/US/Emergency_Information/

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