Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - Nonprofit Jobs

I love working in the nonprofit sector.  Every day, I work with passionate people making positive changes in their communities.  It's an honor and a privilege. 

Our sector is always looking for good people to join us.

Nonprofits hire people from a variety of backgrounds and skill sets. Healthcare nonprofits often need RNs /therapists/nursing aids.  Social service organizations often hire people with a background in social work and good people skills. As with most professions, those seeking to work in the nonprofit sector should at least have a high school diploma.  A bachelor's degree will qualify you for more jobs.  An advanced degree is often needed for management positions.

One of the best ways to get started in the nonprofit sector is through volunteer work. By donating your time, you can sample an organization's working environment while building your network.  If you can carve out a few hours a week, call your favorite charity and ask what you can do. If you have the flexibility and desire to volunteer full or part-time to a cause, check out Americorps and see where you can put your skills and experience to good use.  I got my start in the nonprofit sector as an Americorps volunteer just out of college.  It was one of the best years of my life.

If you just want to find a job with work you can feel good about and that pays decently, visit Nonprofit Connect's joblink.  For nonprofit jobs all over the country, Idealist.org is your best bet.

Another tip: Find out the nitty-gritty on any charity you've applied to by looking it up on Guidestar. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Scams of the Week: March 28, 2011

Nuke Proofing - As with most tragedies, scammers try to capitalize on the basic emotions and fears of people.  Because of the constant and dangerous possibility of a Fukushima Nuclear Reactor meltdown, scammers are trying to get people to buy anti-radiation meds, especially in California and Hawaii. To put things in perspective, even if the Japanese nuclear reactor melted down, Hawaiians would get more radiation from a banana than from drifting fallout. Check out this chart. It helps illustrate just how absurd the claims being made actually are. The Japanese are in serious danger. Americans who are not in Japan are not in danger.

GROC Co. - This company uses a relay operator so that they do not have to use their voice.  They say they are in New Jersey but have Florida numbers. It looks like a front to buy products with illegal credit card numbers. If you run a business, be wary.

"It's a scam I'm telling u" - If you find these words on any of your Twitter friends' accounts, then they are not real. It's a saying that I've been seeing a lot of on Twitter to try and appear like they are having conversations with other people. They usually have profile pictures of gorgeous models too. That's another sign they aren't real. Almost always, the account's other tweets are advertisements for twitter marketing software, big bucks promises, free iPads, outlandish claims, scams and other nonsense.

Full Service Timeshare - I'm surprised that this "business" was still picking up the phone within one month ago.  They were yet another Timeshare scam company that told consumers that they had 'lined up' a buyer for their timeshare, but they needed $1850 up front.  Once consumer paid, the company never bothered to talk to them again. Full Service Timeshare claimed to be in the Kansas City address, but they never were. They just found a building with some space for rent and said they were there.  The stopped soliciting more than six months ago, but tried to string along customers for many months after. They may or may not have turned themselves a new scam. If you've been had by this company, contact your Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Charity Wednesday - Thoughts on Giving to Japan

Where should you send your donations to help Japan?  My radical idea:  nowhere.  At least, not yet.  And I urge caution in giving to organizations that are fundraising on behalf of relief efforts.

The situation in Japan is unfortunately still unfolding.  The New York Times reports that the Japanese Army is handling the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami well and in an efficient manner. Japan is only accepting very specific offers of aid, such and search and rescue dogs.  While there is great need, the Japanese are capably addressing their country's tragedy themselves. 

So, please, be wary of appeals from organizations that are asking for your donations to relief efforts right now.  The truth is, outside of the Japanese Red Cross - not the American Red Cross, mind you - there are very few aid groups currently working on relief efforts. 

As a highly developed, industrialized country, Japan - unlike Haiti - is not a recipient of ongoing relief work.  Most international aid groups do not have the type of networks to efficiently funnel aid in Japan that they do in developing countries.  If you read the fine print in appeals from these organizations, you will see that they do not really know what they will do with your donations to aid the Japanese.  Here's an example from BBB Accredited Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is working with Caritas International and others to find pathways to bring aid to the many thousands stricken by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan.
"The people of Japan who have suffered this tragedy are our brothers and sisters," Sean Callahan, vice president of overseas operations said. "Though it is too early to know the exact details of how we will help, we know that it is our mission to aid them in this time of need. As our mission is to serve the world's most poor and vulnerable people, CRS does not normally have a program in Japan. But, just as we did after the Kobe Earthquake in 1995, we will find appropriate partners for the expression of generosity by Catholics in the United States and others of goodwill."
"CRS has determined there was minimal damage from the tsunami in countries where we have programs - such as the Philippines and Indonesia," said Callahan. "Our focus now is on the people of Japan."
Caritas Japan has indicated that for now it will not be involved in immediate relief work, a huge operation run by the Japanese Army, but will focus on long-term recovery. In a statement, Caritas Japan noted that the damage is not only physical but also psychological. "We will accompany people who lost their beloved, who lost everything and may stay at temporary shelter, and who have no one to rely on," the statement said.
The president of Caritas Japan, Bishop Isao Kikuchi SVD says, "We have received so many emails from all continents, filled with words of compassion and prayer. We are very grateful for this solidarity. We believe that aid activity is needed, but prayer is also important in such a situation."
Similarly, BBB Accredited Oxfam America lists the following statement on its website: 

All over the world, Oxfam is responding to disasters, rushing clean water and other resources to survivors. But we are carrying out no such effort in Japan. Why?

Unlike many countries around the world, Japan has had both the means and the will to invest seriously in disaster preparedness and response. The government can deliver large amounts of aid as quickly as the conditions on the ground permit, calling for specific outside resources (such as more search-and-rescue teams) as needed. So far, Oxfam’s particular expertise in emergencies – including delivering water and sanitation facilities - has not been required.

But in every humanitarian emergency, there are those who struggle to get access to the help they need. Oxfam Japan is channeling funds to local organizations that aim to fill some of the gaps in aid - providing a hotline for non-Japanese speakers like migrant workers, for example, and assisting nursing mothers. Oxfam America is accepting funds to support their efforts.

My family is using the tragedy in Japan, and the spurt of generosity it inspires, to donate to the unrestricted funds of an international relief charity so that they may use our donation wherever and however they see fit.  What happened - what is still happening - in Japan is horrible. But people all over the world are in dire need every day.  If our donation is not needed to help the Japanese, we can honor them by supporting relief work elsewhere.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Scams of the Week: March 14

Diamond International Escrow/Market Value Properties - This company makes unsolicited phone calls to timeshare owners and claims to have found a buyer for the timeshare. They ask the owner to place an advance fee into an escrow account through a fake third party escrow company called Diamond International Escrow.  Diamond International Escrow claims to operate at a Kansas City address.  They do not have a business license in Kansas City and they are not at the location they claimed.  They claim to have been in business since 1982, but there is no evidence of it. They claim to have 250 employees, but they certainly don't.  Unless a timeshare owner initiates a sale through a specific company, there is no reason for a timeshare resell company to find a buyer.  Timeshare resell companies that call out of the blue and claim to have buyers "all lined up" are scams.

Tsunami Relief Scams - As with the previous Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haitian earthquake last year, villains pour from the woodwork to steal donation money.  Be sure to verify the reliability of a charity with the Better Business Bureau before donating.  In addition, the BBB offers the following advice when donating:


-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 might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

-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. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

-Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance.  See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they 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 charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

-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 that 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses.  They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.    
  
-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 be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

-Look for details when texting a donation.
Beginning with the earthquake in Haiti, it’s become common to send a text to make a donation. Make sure you understand the amount to be donated, and whether there will be any service fees charged to your account. Be sure the offer clearly identifies which charity will receive the donation, then check out the charity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

After the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami - Smart Ways to Aid Disaster Relief

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the recent disaster in Japan.  I was heartened to hear this morning that my cousin in Tokyo is alright.  If you have friends or family members in Japan, I hope you received similar good news.

As with any disaster, I know good people will be searching for ways that they can help.  From our friends at The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, I give you these tips on how you can make sure your donations make a difference.

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.

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. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Various Job Scams

Government Jobs - Several online ads claim Government jobs are available, but when job seekers contact the listed phone number they are asked to buy a book that lists all the available government jobs one can apply for. These scams also charge for people to access to tests and generic information about the jobs.  They don't tell job seekers that all this information can be obtained for free by contacting the government agencies. If people need a list of all the government jobs, they can visit USAjobs.com.

Fake Jobs - Nearly everyone who has used Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com has gotten an email from some unknown company that wants to hire him or her for something fishy. The business usually says they have been in business for five or six years, but job seekers can find zero information on the company. On rare occasions, they pretend to be real businesses with stellar reputations. They say that you can work remotely/telecommute (work-at-home).  However, they need all of the job seeker's information including social security number. Sometimes these fake businesses even manage to make up a reason to ask for credit card numbers or money wire transfers. Watch out for generic email addresses. Most large businesses won't use them.

Pyramid Selling Scams - This is the only job scam that involves a sales pitch from a live person. They mostly begin with help wanted ads with outlandish earnings claims.  Job seekers are asked to meet at some public place, like a diner, because the business does not have a physical location. The sales person makes a very appealing sales pitch, explaining the wonders of money-making with their program. All the new employees have to do is sign up new people for the program and then give some of the money to the people who brought him or her into the program.  Often, however, there is no product. The whole program revolves around getting new people to sign up for the program and then those new people getting new people, constantly funneling money upward. Anyone who makes money with the program does not do anything, does not sell anything or offer any service.

Work-at-Home Jobs - This category is the most infamous of all job scams because it is what everyone wants to do. The Better Business Bureau has fought their claims for nearly ninety years. These opportunities almost always ask for money up front, calling it an "investment." Well, investments are supposed to promise likely returns.  Work-at-home up front fees aren't investments.  They're lost causes.  It is not a "risk" to spend money on them. Risk implies the possibility of beneficial returns.  With work-at-home jobs guarantee a loss of money.

There are several sub-categories under the work-at-home banner.

-Data Entry - They claim that if you purchase their software, you will be able to process medical insurance documents.  This is an absurd.  Due to HIPAA regulations, companies cannot go forwarding people's private medical insurance information all over the place. Anyway, think about it like this, they hire an unreliable person and forward off a bunch of documents to someone several hundred miles away and he or she does not do the work. Then the company has to forward the documents to another person who may also be unreliable and several hundred miles away.  The work never gets done, insurance problems arise, patients are not getting the money they are supposed to, hospitals begin getting sued, the data entry business goes under because no one will hire them. See what I mean? Data entry from home is never a viable business, it is inefficient and undisciplined. And when a job seeker must PAY to get software from the company? What utter nonsense.

-Envelope Stuffing - Every single one of these is a scam. No exceptions.  Whether they say that you can make money mailing fliers, documents, envelopes or anything similar, they are lying. Even if the envelope stuffing firm says an employee only makes fifty cents per envelope, there are real mail services that charge considerably less to mail considerably more. One of my previous blogs explains the false claims of envelope stuffing and data entry.

-Craft Assembly - These business say that they will mail out parts to be assembled and pay people to assemble them.  Like paying to stuff envelopes this is horribly inefficient, so there must be a catch. The business sells starter kits for around $30-$40. Once the scam victims assemble the product and mail it back, it invariably "does not meet quality standards." They make money off the starter kits and pay nothing to the assemblers.

-Big Earnings With No Explanation!!! - Have you ever seen those webpages or mailers that talk about how much money you can earn by entering their program? The business's literature seems to go on and on and on about how great the program is, how much money you can make, but never once explains what the program involves. After reading through ten thousand words of ego-stroking nonsense, they ask for your credit card number. If by the end of all your reading, you still have no idea what the program is, don't use it. These types of scams usually involve "helping" people to start their own home-based business or become an internet marketer

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - Upcoming Conference on Rural Philanthropy

I read the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation President's Blog.  You should, too.

I was very excited to recently learn on that blog that Council on Foundations is hosting a conference in Kansas City, July 25 - 27, on how philanthropy can help meet the many needs of rural America. 

At the BBB we strive to help charities all over our metro area meet their missions by providing a guidepost toward good governance in the form of our Charity Accountability Standards.  I am happy to consult with any charity on how adhering to the Charity Accountability Standards can strengthen an organization's ability to meet its mission.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Scams of the Week: March 7, 2011

Facebook Phishers of the Week: Don't click on wall links with the following text or something like it.
-"My top Stalkers are..."
-Charlie Sheen Video
-Facebook Sponsored Weight Loss Product
-"Hey, What the hell are you doing in this video? Is this dancing or what?? Bahahaha"

Realty Check Scam - This works the same as other fake check scams but it involves buying real estate rather than sweepstakes, mystery shopping or car buying. The con men act like they're going to buy a property. They mail the seller a check for several hundred thousand dollars. They ask for a few thousand to be sent back via wire transfer (Western Union, Moneygram). They pretend it is to pay off taxes, but it's just to line their pockets.  The bank will eventually figure out the large check they sent the seller is fake and the money will be removed from the seller's bank account, leaving him or her without the money he wired to the con men.

Jamaican Sweepstakes Winner - Two numbers with Jamaican area codes have been calling people in the area, asking for access to people's bank accounts to "place the winnings in the account." Once people give up access to their accounts, they lose their money.  They are calling from 1-876-571-0684 as well as 1-876-294-0626. Remember, an 876 area code is not toll free. It's a Jamaican area code.

Hijacked Mortgage Payments - A few scam artists convince people that their mortgage has been sold and then have automatic payments transferred to their bank accounts. It's pretty clever and it's new, which makes it more dangerous because people haven't had a chance to defend themselves against it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - The Difference between Tax Exempt and Tax Deductible

So, have you filed your taxes yet?  Mine are done and our refund is on its way.  This year our tax situation was helped considerably by the addition of a happy, babbling, mess-making, little tax deduction.  Donating to charity is another, much less sticky way of saving on your taxes.  Here at the BBB, we often get questions from the public about whether or not contributions to a particular organization are tax deductible.  A group may solicit for funds and state that it is a 'tax exempt' organization, but does that automatically mean that the money you give them can be taken as a tax deduction?  The short answer is no.  Donors need to be careful about the wording they read and hear in a solicitation.

Tax exempt means that an organization does not have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means that a donor can deduct contributions to the organization on his or her federal income tax return. Most ‘tax deductible’ charities are classified by the IRS under section 501(c) 3 as charitable organizations.


Tax Exempt Organizations:

AARP (social welfare organization – no restrictions on lobbying or political activity)

Better Business Bureau (business organization)

Kansas State Troopers Association (fraternal organization)

Missouri State Troopers Association (fraternal organization)

Angel Flight Central (charity)

Tax Deductible Organizations:

Of the five organizations listed above, only Angel Flight Central   is an organization to whom contributions are tax deductible.

The other organizations are business, fraternal, and social welfare organizations that do not pay income tax on the dues collected from their members, thus they are considered 'tax exempt.'

Other examples of tax-deductible organizations are Harvesters, Hope House, City Union Mission, and places of worship.

Disclaimer: Our lawyers here at the BBB would appreciate it if I mentioned that any questions regarding your taxes should be directed to a qualified tax professional.  I am quite grateful that there are people out there who did not find their accounting and finance classes to be as terrifying as I did.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scams of the Week: March 1, 2011

We will have a special edition of Scams of the Week this time around. It focuses on the health claims of some of the more recent fads that have been getting a lot of attention.  Health claims are often outside the realm of knowledge for consumers and they must rely on research and trust to find out what is true and what is not. The problem comes when drug manufacturers and businesses massage research data to give false impressions about their product.  The testimony of health gurus is not reliable either. So here is some reliable information about products that are widely misrepresented.


Capsaicin Based Weight Loss Pills - Capsaicin is a chemical in cayenne pepper that many weight loss pills boast as an ingredient.  Apparently, it does have an effect on the weight loss of people in extraordinarily high doses.  I have only found one reliable study, the rest have serious issues with controlling the parameters of the experiments (controlling outside influences that have an effect on weight loss should be a requirement of weight loss study).  The reliable study concludes "Capsaicin has been shown to be effective, yet when it is used clinically it requires a strong compliance to a certain dosage, that has not been shown to be feasible yet." So, they can't cram enough capsaicin into pills to affect weight loss. Check the ingredients of any diet pills you may be considering.

Most weight loss pill claims suffer from the same manipulation of research data.  In a lab, someone tests a substance's biological effect on fatty tissue that might imply weight loss, but tests are rarely properly administered to see if humans in a controlled environment are capable of the weight loss being advertised. It's very difficult to tell an honest business from a fraudulent one because the data sounds convincing even if it's being used in an inappropriate way.


Homeopathy - I recently got a call from someone who defended homeopathic "treatment" in response to our list of the top ten scams from last year, which singled out homeopathy as quackery. Perhaps I shouldn't have called it "quackery." Perhaps I should have called it alchemy, sorcery or some other nonsense non-medical superstition. I want to be clear about one thing. It's fake. It doesn't work and can't work.  The idea behind homeopathy involves diluting a substance that gives similar symptoms to what already ails the patient. Yes, you read that right. Something that gives the same symptoms.


At this point, you may be thinking that it's similar to inoculation, but it's not. Inoculation and Vaccination uses an inert strand of a virus to build up a person's resistance to it.  Homeopathy uses something that causes similar symptoms (or supposedly causes similar symptoms), but is in no way related to the actual disease ailing the patient.  In a famous homeopthic remedy, the patient takes a pill with diluted amounts of duck liver to cure the flu.  That's right, duck liver.  For anyone who might be just the teensiest bit curious, duck liver has no effect on the flu.


But that's not the only crazy part.  The duck liver, or whatever else they put into solutions for other ailments, is diluted to point of being undetectable in any way.  Homeopaths dilute the ingredient with so much water that only one single duck liver molecule is present in millions or even billions of pills.  So, one in a billion will actually have any ingredient other than water or salt in their dosage. Homeopaths believe that the water will retain some memory of the ingredient. I am not making this up. The person lucky enough to get that one molecule of duck liver in their dosage would not be able to detect the molecule anyway. By any scientific measurement, it is water. There would be more dust than duck.


This superstition of "water memory" itself is not a scam, but because there are people out there selling it to desperate people in need of non-existent treatment makes it a scam.