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

Oct 25, 2007, 01:00 ET from U.S. Postal Inspection Service

    WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Our charitable nature
 leaves us vulnerable to charity fraud schemes. 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 11th 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
 website, or at the Better Business Bureau's Wise
 Giving Alliance,
     Scam artists who use the U.S. Mail to misrepresent charities, may be
 prosecuted under the mail fraud statute --- which carries substantial
 fines, along with 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
     -- Always make checks out to the name of the charity, never to an
     -- 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 fund raiser.
     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,, for additional information or to file a
 fraud complaint.
     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

SOURCE U.S. Postal Inspection Service