Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scams of the Week: May 31, 2011

Mellennium Profit Systems - They claim you can make $60/hr by setting up links.  Of course, you have to pay $97 to figure out how to make all this money.  Once you leave the site, you are prevented from leaving and asked if you would like to purchase the program for $49.  People don't make $60/hr from home setting up links.  If you could, no one would tell you about it, creating competition for themselves.

American Airlines Non-Refundable Ticket Scam - This is new, rare, clever and takes a disciplined con-man to pull it off. It's not often I discover a scam I've not heard of before, but here it is.  The company poses as an airline ticket broker, such as Priceline or Hotwire, and offers to buy tickets at a discounted price. They ask victims to wire them the cost of tickets and they purchase them from the airline. Once the money is wired, the company could just keep it, but they actually purchase non-refundable tickets from America Airlines.  The victim is given temporarily relief and doesn't pay any more attention to these tickets that are already purchased and non-refundable.  However, American Airline policy states that if the flight changes times, the tickets suddenly become refundable.  Unbeknownst to the victim, Airline flights change departure times all the time. The scam company waits for departure times to change on all of their victims flights and demands refunds from the airline, which are promptly given.  This leaves the victim scammed without knowing it for several months.  So far, Fly-Boo.com is the only confirmed company that has done this, but they've since fled the coop. The scammers will be back with a new name soon, to do the same thing again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scams of the Week: May 25, 2011

Blogger was messed up a bit this week and last, so this post is a bit late.  There will also be much more information in our newsletter to come out on Thursday.

Google Impersonators - Kansas City is going to be hit especially hard soon, so we're warning you all early.  The Kansas City area will be the only place on earth with Google Broadband for a while.  We will see fake promotions, sweepstakes, and especially "job opportunities."  We've already heard from people who have been contacted about fake Google job opportunities making $900 a day from home. They call from 1-888-244-5458.

4 the Glory Charity - They advertise that people who struggle with finances can get up to $1000 in aid. They claim that they have helped "thousands of people," but they just popped up in March.  That means they would have already given away a minimum of $1,000,000 in two months to substantiate their claim. Not likely.  They also ask for social security numbers of their applicants and their applicants' children.  The site is not secure.

Monday, May 23, 2011

BBB Advice for Tornado Relief

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd the string of tonadoes that have hit our whole area in recent days.  We know that the people of Kansas City will do whatever we can to aid our neighbors.

To make sure that your donation helps the tornado victims as intended, please follow these simple tips when making a donation:

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.

Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s Web site clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.

Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.

In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Following the tornadoes that hit much of the South last month, there were reports of piles of broken toys, used clothing, etc arriving as 'donations' to affected areas. Ask any charity collecting in-kind donations about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Be cautious when giving online.

Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s Web site. In response to Katrina, Rita and the Asian tsunamis of several years ago, the FBI and others raised concerns about Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.

Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.

Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Charity Wednesdays: Should Donors Be Able to Sue?

An article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about efforts by donors to the Central Asia Institute (CAI) to recoup their gifts has a lot of people talking about whether donors should be able to sue charities if they feel they were misled. 

Central Asia Institute's founder, Greg Mortenson, wrote the best-selling book Three Cups of Tea. Questions have arisen recently about the accuracy of Morteson's story and a group of donors are attempting to sue CAI because they feel they were misled into supporting an organization that does not exactly do what it says it does.

I worry that if this lawsuit is allowed to go through, it will create another brand of frivolous legal battles and suck time and money from the good work that the vast majority of nonprofits do on a daily basis.

At the BBB, we advise donors to always make informed giving decisions.  Our charity reports help you do that. Please don't give to a charity solely because of what you read in a book by that organization's author. 

Incidentally, the BBB's report on CAI reveals that it chose not to disclose its information to us.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what that might mean about Greg Mortenson and his commitment to nonprofit ethics.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Scams of the Week: May 16, 2011

Google Music Scam - According to Mashable, the as yet unreleased Google Music Beta is the latest bait in an email scam. After offering you an invite into the upcoming Google program, the scam presumably phishes for personal information like credit card numbers and possibly social security numbers. Google is the only group that can extend this invite.  So if you get an invite from anyone else, it's a scam.

Associated Community Services (ACS) - This company collects on behalf of charities that don't even come close to meeting our standards. They are soliciting donations from Kansas City residents. Charity Navigator has already posted an alert about them that links to a exposé news story about them. Some of the charities they collect for keep 80% of the donated money.  That doesn't even count what ACS keeps for themselves.  ACS also asks people for bank account numbers over the phone.

DSM Supply - an F rating with the BBB because of a whopping 63 UNANSWERED complaints to the BBB. More complaints are coming in all the time.  They illegally bombard doctors' offices with junk faxes and refuse to stop. Ever.  If anyone receives an unsolicited fax from this company, be sure to file a complaint with the BBB and the Federal Communication Commission. [Edit: Complaints are now handled by the BBB of Dallas. All complaints from the BBB of Kansas City have been forwarded there for processing. DSM Supply still holds an F Rating. Investigations into the company are ongoing.]

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mystery Shopper Scams

Myster Shopper Scams comes in all shapes and sizes.  They have the minor league scam that asks victims for about $30.  If the victim sends in the money, they will receive a packet of information from businesses that are supposedly hiring mystery shoppers.  The list was either never any good or it is horribly outdated.  The major league stuff includes check fraud and looks like the one on the image below. Click the image to enlarge and get more details about the scam.

The checks look real and the letter can appear convincing. Mystery shopper offers that include checks are always always scams. If you receive an unsolicited check, take a short moment to do a thought experiment.  If a valid check is addressed to you, there is nothing that stops you from cashing that check and never contacting the business that sent it to you.  You could legally just keep the money.  No sane business would ever take the risk of mailing out thousands of dollars to strangers and just hoping that they call.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Charity Wednesday - Charity Athletic Events

We all know someone who has trained for a run/walk/bike race in an effort to raise money and awareness for a cause.  Before giving $20 to your co-worker training for that marathon he'll run in Vegas, as his personal effort to end the fight against XYZ Horrible Disease, check with the BBB.  Training programs and athletic events can be great ways for charities to support their mission, but as donors we should make sure that the money we donate will go toward the cause, not the fundraising machine behind it.

And for some charity run levity, check this out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Scams of the Week: May 9, 2011 (What Check Scams Look Like)

I did some scanning and editing so that you can see exactly what fraudulent check scams look like. The checks look perfectly real and it tricks many people. This blog entry is to give you a glimpse of just how realistic they are. Click on the image below to enlarge.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - Are YOU giving less?

New information from the IRS indicates that this recession is having a greater affect on charitable giving than previously thought.  It's been a long slump.  We know this.  For some it's hard to fathom giving to charity when so much of our dwindling paycheck is now going toward higher fuel and food costs. 

But, as we've discussed before, Kansas City tends to be more generous than the nation as a whole. 

So I'm curious.  Has the economy affected your own charitable giving?  Has it affected what types of organizations and causes you support?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Scams of the Week: May 2, 2011

Search Engine Optimization Scams - Unfortunately scams take advantage of every single situation to arise anywhere in the world.  With the death of Osama Bin Laden and the release of President Obama's long form birth certificate, internet search engines lit up with searches for details about both. And of course, many sites take advantage of these highly searched terms, load up their webpages with keywords that drive traffic to them.  Once these websites are clicked (more often, the content within the sites), they might load information stealing-malware onto computers. So be very careful which sites you go clicking around on.

Osama Bin Laden Death Video - Facebook's new phishing scam.  Click on the link and it steals your info, loads your computer up with malware. We predicted this would happen about an hour before we heard about it. We thought we might get the word out before the thing went viral, but we were just late. If anyone dies, goes into rehab, or anything that is self-detrimental, expect some link on Facebook to pop up asking people to check out a video with them in it.  Don't click on them. Ever.

XBox Live Modern Warfare 2 Phishing Scam - The BBB of British Columbia picked up on this one. Phishing scams on gaming services are rare, but they will probably become more prevalent as scammers learn the ins and outs of gaming systems and services.  In this case, Microsoft warns gamers to avoid doing business with anyone unfamiliar who solicit them with "title specific" messages. Having played Modern Warfare 2, I'm not sure what "title specific" messaging is, but be careful anyway.

Walmart Vacation Winner Scam - This used to be primarily an email scam, now it's over the phone.  If someone calls you, saying that you've won a trip because you shopped at Walmart, it is a scam.  It's often a phishing scam, but sometimes, they will forward you a check and tell you it's to pay taxes. They will then tell you who is to collect the taxes and have you wire the check to them.  The check they gave you is fake, and you will be out however much you wired elsewhere.

Google Sniper - Another get rich quick scheme.  It's nothing special.  It has audacious earnings claims and tells people that they're fools for not getting into this deal that looks like EVERY OTHER deal. Don't bother. It will have the same results as the others--zero to nominal income at the cost of thousands to buy in.