Sad but true: Scamsters feed on grief

NEWARK

With many New Jersey residents anxious to show support for the victims of last week’s mass shooting in Orlando, the N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs is cautioning the public to beware of charity scams.

While the outpouring of grief, concern and support for the families affected by this tragedy is enormous, so is the potential for fraud.

“In the aftermath of a tragedy such as this one, good people are moved to find ways to help victims start the healing process, often by sending money,” said N.J. Attorney General Robert Lougy. “Unfortunately, bad actors are just as motivated to find ways to exploit the situation for their own profit.”

“Consumers should apply a critical eye to any e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings or telephone calls soliciting money to help those devastated by the Orlando shooting,” said Steve Lee, Consumer Affairs director. “The best way to provide support for the victims is to make sure the money you donate is going to a legitimate charity that actually benefits them.”

To avoid getting taken by charity scams, would-be donors should follow these steps:

  • Be especially cautious when responding to e-mail and telephone solicitations for money. These methods are more often used by fraudsters seeking to take advantage of a tragedy for their own gain.
  • Delete unsolicited e-mails and don’t open attachments, even if they claim to contain video or photographs. The attachments may contain viruses designed to steal personal financial information from your computer.
  • Beware of solicitors that pressure you to act quickly or donate on the spot. That’s a telltale sign of a scam.
  • Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card, or write a check directly to the charity.
  • Do not make checks payable to individuals; make checks payable only to those organizations listed as active in the Consumer Affairs database.
  • Be wary of providing personal or financial information, even to charities you’ve confirmed are legitimate. Limit the information to what is needed to process your donation.
  • Social media sites can also perpetuate scams. Do not blindly give via these sites. As with any charity, investigate the groups behind the pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization.
  • Try to limit your giving to charities you know and trust. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. If a charity is new, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t donate — but learn as much as possible about it first.  What is its stated mission and how, exactly, does it plan to use your money? Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.

To learn about specific groups, contact the Division’s Charities Hotline at 1-973-504-6215 or www.state.nj.us/lps/ca2/charities.

Consumers are urged to report suspicious solicitations to their local police and to the Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 or 973-504- 6200.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent