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UNITED STATES POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE

For further information contact:
Renee Focht, 626-405-1285, RMFocht@uspis.gov
Douglas Bem, 202-268-4326, DABem@uspis.gov
http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov

October 25, 2007

Postal Inspectors Warn: Don't Get Burned by Charity Scams Claiming to Assist Fire Victims

Our charitable nature leaves us vulnerable to charity fraud. Most charities are legitimate organizations that support good causes. Some, however, are run by swindlers. With more than 700,000 federally recognized charities soliciting for charitable contributions, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reminds everyone it pays to be cautious when making a donation.

Disasters bring out the best in people who truly desire to help those impacted by these situations. Unfortunately, disasters also bring out the worst; scammers take advantage of the circumstances by stealing the charitable donations intended to help victims of the disaster. Postal Inspectors saw numerous charity scams emerge in the days following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Southeast Asia earthquake and tsunami, and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The recent California firestorm offers a new opportunity for fraudsters to perpetrate charity scams. If you’re considering a contribution to help with relief efforts, it’s important to know where your donation dollars will go. California charities can be researched on the Attorney General’s website, ag.ca.gov/charities or at the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, give.org

Scam artists who use the U.S. Mail to misrepresent charities may be prosecuted under the mail fraud statute, which carries substantial fines and prison terms of up to 20 years.

“For as long as there has been a mail fraud statute, the Postal Inspection Service has led the way in keeping the mail safe from opportunistic scam artists who would damage American consumers’ confidence in the mail while trying to make a fast buck for themselves,” said Alexander Lazaroff, Chief Postal Inspector.

“Charity frauds victimize both the giver and the intended recipient. Postal Inspectors are committed to aggressively investigating those who misuse our nation’s mail system to exploit the kind nature of the American public,” said Los Angeles Division Inspector in Charge B. Bernard Ferguson.

U.S. Postal Inspectors offer these additional precautions:

  • Give donations to known charities, or research new or unfamiliar charities first.
  • Refuse high-pressure appeals. Legitimate fundraisers won't push you to give on the spot.
  • Be suspicious of solicitors who say they can only accept a cash donation.
  • Always make checks out to the name of the charity, never to an individual.
  • Be wary of “sound-alike” charities, many scammers use names that sound similar to names of legitimate charities.
  • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. This is a tactic scammers use to lull victims into sending “additional” funds.
  • Ask for ID. For-profit fundraisers must disclose the name of the charity requesting the donation—it’s the law.

Many states require paid fundraisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they're soliciting. If the solicitor refuses to tell you, hang up and report it to law enforcement officials. Also ask how much of your donation goes to those in need and how much goes to the fundraiser.

If you believe you’ve been scammed by a fake charity, contact your local Postal Inspection Service office at 877-876-2455. Visit our website, http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov, for additional information or to file a fraud complaint.

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About the U.S. Postal Inspection Service
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the country. For more than 200 years, Postal Inspectors have protected the U.S. Postal Service, its employees and its customers from criminal attach and protected the nation’s mail system from criminal misuse. To learn more, visit http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.


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