A s holidays approach, scammers emerge. They attempt to siphon off contributions to charitable causes, such as relief from Hurricane Sandy or other worthy endeavors to help those in need.
The best way to avoid this type of scam is not to rely on emotional telephone or Internet solicitations, TV ads or any approach from an unknown source. A donor should know who the recipient of a gift is and who will be distributing the funds.
It helps if a person connected with the charity is known. If a gift is made through a church or service club, such as Rotary, and is intended for victims in a known area, that church or organization may be able to connect with affiliated local organizations that will know those in need.
Anyone wishing to do research on charities can consult charitynavigator.org. This source rates charities and identifies those that address specific needs. It contains more information than most people can absorb.
Contributions to time-honored charities such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army will be certain to direct a substantial amount of contributions in the direction intended. With so many legitimate charities, there is no need to deal with the unknown.
Some of the holiday scammers are part of an ongoing epidemic of computer viruses. A computer virus occurs when someone hacks into a computer and becomes able to send an email message that appears to come from a friend, containing a harmless-appearing attachment saying, "Check this out," describing something that sounds good.
I have been warned specifically about an attachment that says "Postcard from Hallmark." The email contains a link and directs you to click on it. If you click on the link, all the information in your email account is opened up to a scammer, who can use it for identity theft.
You should never click on such a link or on any attachment without knowing the content of the attachment. Instead of replying to the sender, send an email to the correct email address of your friend, or telephone your friend, asking if an email was sent. If not, delete the phony email.
It is easier to avoid a virus than to get rid of one. A virus can cause damage to the hard drive on a computer. Everyone should have a security program installed so you do not contract a virus or cause one to be sent to others. If a virus slips through the system, it may be necessary to change a password or recreate an email program. Such protection is not perfect. First, consult the email server. The services of a computer expert may be required.
Another holiday scam is a telephone solicitation for a holiday children's program run by local police or firefighters. There are some legitimate programs of this nature, but it is best to inquire from a local police or fire department whether any exist before relying on a telephone caller.
I had a recent experience with a caller that went something like this: The caller started explaining the program. I asked for the street address of the department conducting the program. The caller changed the subject, as a scammer will most often do when asked this question.
The caller assured me that he would not ask for money over the phone, as many scammers do in the first call. I assured him that I did not commit money over the phone. I asked about the address again and he said, "We are out of Sacramento." Most scammers would have hung up by this time, but he was undaunted.
I asked if he could mail information to a post office box. I did not want to give my home address. He promised to do so but advised that there were different mailings for different contributions, a little unusual in my experience. He closed the conversation by asking, "How much shall I put you down for?"
The lesson is that a scammer will most often change the subject or give an evasive answer when asked for a street address, because most scammers either do not have a street address or do not want to give one. In another recent telephone conversation, when I asked a female caller for a street address she told me she did not remember the address where she worked.
I wish you all scam-free holidays.
Peter T. Hoss is a retired lawyer and an adviser to Legal Services for Seniors.