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Fraud Watch: Scammers take money from those in need | Columnists

Scam alert. Criminals work hard to divert money from those in need. Case in point — Ukraine. People around the world are responding to cries for help by donating to charities battling the crisis, creating a “perfect storm” for scammers that focuses on tragedy, human suffering, emotion and fear. What is legit? What is a scam?

Here are some steps to take before you click “donate now” or respond to phone calls and text solicitations:

1) Do not click on reviews that appear in pop-ups or on social media sites. These are the favorite haunts of criminals.

2) Research the charity. How long has it existed? A long history means a track record. Who are the people behind the organization? Check out their profiles online. They probably have credentials showing other similar implications.

3) Refer to online charity evaluation services. Even a well-known program may have a less than stellar record. Here are some reputable organizations that rate charities on transparency and financial activity: Better Business Bureau, give.org; Charity Navigator, charitynavigator.org; Charity Watch, charitywatch.org; consumer reports, www.consumerreports.org; and GuideStar, guidestar.org.

4) Ask for a pledge card. They can be sent by mail or downloaded to your computer or tablet. Pay by check or use a credit card to provide traceable records. Credit cards offer some protection against scams and a check gives you a trackable address that can be investigated if a scam is suspected. Avoid online donations and never disclose personal financial data unless you can verify the legitimacy of the lawyer. Likewise, avoid donating with cash transfer programs, gift cards, or money orders. It is advisable to have a clear path for the gift between you and the recipient. Charity scams have multiple victims: the donor, the intended recipients, the legitimate charities. Don’t let your emotions control you. By taking a few precautionary measures, you will ensure that your donation reaches the intended recipients.

Scam Roundup: Here are some of the scams currently popping up in our area.

Vehicles — Vehicle availability is an issue for consumers and dealers. Shortages are seen across the region by simply driving by dealership display lots. Unfortunately, some car dealerships charged buyers additional fees or required the purchase of special features. Others raised vehicle prices well above manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, and some used “bait and switch” tactics. Beware of flood damaged vehicles, new cars that have been repaired after sustaining flood damage. Ask for and check the vehicle history before signing on the dotted line. This will tell you where the car or truck traveled its route from the manufacturer to reach you. If you are the target of any of the tactics listed here, walk away from the transaction and report the dealership to your state attorney general’s office and the vehicle manufacturer.

Artificial Intelligence Calls – The phone rings and “Jennifer” asks if you want to lower your credit card interest rate. Say yes, and she continues asking questions, then transfers your call to an agent. The conversation at this point is actually between you and a computer programmed to recognize specific words or prompts and respond appropriately. If the call recipient responds with a comment that is not programmed into the software, “Jennifer” might say, “Could you repeat that? The best way to handle this situation is to simply hang up. The call is most likely a scam. The best recommendation is not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

Medicare Advantage Plans — The Medicare Advantage plan promotion is back. Nightly TV commercials promote the benefits of these plans, but some offers received over the phone or on a computer or tablet could be scams. Medicare Advantage plans must be approved by Medicare. Determine the legitimacy and cost of the plans on the website medicare.gov. Use the link provided for your state to compare all available plans. Responding to advertisements exposes you to unwanted problems. Your appeal grants the advertiser permission to offer programs to you without restriction. Reaching out to any program will also result in receiving information for that program. You will need to contact each of the other programs available in your state to compare which is best for you.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. Questions, concerns? Contact me, [email protected]