Tag Archives: Charities

The Best! The Worst!

New-York-Marathon

Today is marathon Sunday in New York City and, for years now, I have lived less than a block from the marathon route. It is one of the most exciting days of the year for me and I love walking down to the end of my block to join the over one million spectators who line the 26.2-mile route to cheer on the runners. All too often, New Yorkers are thought of as people who just don’t care about others. Per the stereotype, it’s just keep out of our way, don’t look us in the eye and don’t do anything that will slow us down and we won’t have any problems. Marathon day is a day when I am reminded that the city is a city full of people who do things like come out to cheer and high-five strangers as those strangers test their bodies and spirits. I love it.

There are moments, such as the marathon, that bring out the best in people. Disasters, as sad as they may be, also bring out the best in people. People come out and give time, money and other resources to help those in need. Tragically, disasters also tend to bring out the worst in some people. Some among us see disasters as a great opportunity to take advantage of others, for personal gain. Some of the fraudsters are blatant in their unscrupulous ways because they are targeting the desperate among us. A current example is the migrant crisis in Europe, where refugees, seeking to escape dangers at home, will give up all their resources in the hopes of reaching a safer place. Instead, some hand over money to greedy criminals who then lead them into more danger and, sometimes, even death.

Other fraudsters are more slick in their strategies to profit from the suffering of others. In recent months, natural disasters such as fires and tropical storms, have left many in the United States needing assistance. Just in October, while communities in South Carolina were struggling to recover from flooding damage, warnings were being sent out because of an influx of fake charities. These counterfeit charities, preying on the generosity of those wishing to do something to help the displaced and impacted, were taking people’s money and doing nothing to help those in need. Just a couple of days ago in New York, a company agreed to pay a settlement of $700,000 for pretending to collect secondhand clothing to help charities. Instead, this company sold the clothing, paid almost nothing to the charities and made profits of over $10 million dollars, it is estimated.

Because, even in situations where we should be helping others, there are those who are looking to help themselves at the cost of those around them, it is important to be vigilant.

  • It was Halloween yesterday and parents were checking to make sure that the treats that their kids collected were safe for consumption. Yes, people may appear to be doing good things, but it is only smart to make sure that everything is above-board.
  • Even though it may seem like a drag, check up on who you are giving your money or time to.
  • The name may sound familiar, but make sure it really is who you think it is.
  • If you feel uncomfortable about something, it is okay to say no. There are many opportunities to give back to those in need and you will find the opportunity where you are sure that what you are doing is benefitting those who need it.
  • Don’t give your personal information to anyone.
  • If you believe that you have been scammed, contact your local authorities and report it.

Giving is a vital part of what makes us communities. Just make sure that you are giving to the right people and not the unscrupulous scammers around. You know, like that obnoxious person in the neighborhood who decides that they just have to cross the street as the runners are passing by. Don’t give that guy the time of day.

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It’s In The Mail

ImageIn one of my previous lives, I worked for a company that, among its various business ventures, owned a mailboxes service. I would pop in occasionally to see how this and other nearby businesses were doing and, on one such visit, I found myself in the middle of an adventure. In the morning, shortly after the store opened, a man walked in and flashed his very impressive-looking badge. He explained that a woman was going to come in later in the day to pick up a package and that he needed to be present when this happened. Unsure what was going on, yet thoroughly impressed by the badge, the store’s staff agreed to let the man set himself up behind the counter, in wait for the woman. In no time, the man had settled himself in a chair, opened up a newspaper and blended into the scenery. A short while later, the store’s phone rang and one of the store’s employees answered a call for the woman they were waiting for. She asked if her package had arrived. Upon hearing that it had, she requested that someone bring it out to her car, as she was waiting outside the store. The employee explained that it was the store’s policy that all customers come in to pick up and sign for their own packages. After a short back and forth, he hung up the phone and a few minutes later a small woman in massive sunglasses walked in. The agent paid her no notice and appeared, instead, to be engrossed in a phone conversation with a friend. The woman signed for her package and turned to leave with it. As she did so, the agent whispered urgently into his phone and, suddenly, the mailboxes store turned into a scene straight out of the movies. Men in dark glasses, holding guns, burst in through the door, our agent behind the counter surged forward and, in no time, the woman was under arrest and her box was in their custody. Before he left, the agent explained that this woman was one of a group of people shipping some drug along the lines of PCP. Suffice to say, we were all pretty speechless and the most amazing thing of all? These guys worked for the US Postal Service. Yes, those folks who will let “Neither snow nor rain nor heat…” keep them from delivering your mail will not let crime hang out in their system either.

The United States Postal Inspection Service, founded by Benjamin Franklin, is the primary law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service and one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Their goal is to protect against those who  “attack our nation’s postal system and misuse it to defraud, endanger, or otherwise threaten the American public.” You would be amazed how many criminals use the postal service as a conduit for perpetuating their crimes (using services such as UPS and FedEx for crimes that cross state lines is also covered by these laws). When Charles Ponzi was arrested for taking people’s money in a giant fraud that came to be known by his last name, the Ponzi Scheme, he was arrested by the US Postal Inspection Service because he had used the mail system to write to his investors, encouraging them to reinvest their funds.  He was charged with and went to jail for mail fraud.

If a person sends you mail in order to ensnare you in some kind of scam, to make an illegal delivery or to otherwise commit a crime, that is mail fraud. Conversely, if someone has scammed you and you end up sending that person money or some other item of value, that too is also considered mail fraud and that person can be prosecuted for it. Since a lot of mail fraud involves financial schemes, the work of financial forensics experts is quite important in the crime fighting work of the US Postal Inspection Service. If, for example, a person were running a pyramid scheme that involves people mailing in funds to invest in the scheme, a forensic accountant would be needed to track and follow the money trail and build a case against the criminal carrying out the scheme. Also, say you received a solicitation to send money to a fake charity and you sent payment in the mail. A forensic CPA’s skills would go a long way in exposing and putting a stop to the bad deeds of the fake charity.

The US Postal Service provides a very important service. It is well known that stealing mail is a federal crime but few realize just how far the US Postal Service and its law enforcement agents go to maintain the integrity of the postal service. Much trust is placed in those blue boxes and this is because of the work of these agents.

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‘Tis The Season

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A recent typhoon ripped through parts of the Philippines, causing unimaginable damage. People lost their homes, they lost their livelihoods and some even lost their lives. This tragedy has inspired many around the world to do what they can to help those affected by this typhoon. This tragedy has also inspired those with less noble intentions to do what they can to exploit the moment for financial gain. It is very important, therefore, when giving to give not only generously, but also smartly. As we are in the midst of the holiday season, which is also the time of the year when most charitable giving occurs, a lot of these pointers will apply to any giving that you do. I am sure that you would not want to find out that what you thought was a charitable gift was actually going to fund an ignoble stranger’s lavish lifestyle.

First, it is vital to know to whom your donation is going. At a time like this, you are very likely to be inundated with pleas from organizations. The pleas will be very good at laying out how dire things are right now; that is because things are dire. And because things are so dire, it is all the more important to know that any donation you are sending is actually going to help. Not all charities are created or managed equally. And, depending on the cause, not all charities will spend funds in the way that you would like them to. For example, some charities have funds that are dedicated to helping those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, while others may solicit funds using the typhoon as a draw, but not actually spend the money on that. Also, some charities spend a greater portion on their nonprofit work than others do. Fortunately for you, there are several resources that you can use in order to research charities so that you can make an informed decision about where you want to send your money. Examples are Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar. Here, you can find tax return information, ratings in various categories and find out more about the leadership of the nonprofit.

Make sure your money is going where you think it is going. Recently, it came to light that many calls that appeared to be coming from a charity were actually coming from a for-profit telemarketer hired by the charity. What makes this a less than ideal manner in which to give to a cause is the fact that the telemarketing companies charge very high fees and, at times, the charity ends up handing over just about all the funds raised by the phone call campaigns and very little, if any, of the donations solicited are used for charitable causes. With this in mind, it makes more sense to cut out the middleman on the phone and donate directly to the charity, either via their website, by sending them a check directly or by calling them and making your donation. In this way, you will know that the majority of the money that you give will be used for good. And when you do give, be sure, also, that you are giving to the charity that you think you are giving to. Sometimes fraudsters will use a name that sounds similar to a legitimate charity and even so far as to create fake websites. Again researching the charity can go a long way to not getting scammed. It would be tragic to find out that you gave your money to The Rad Cross, not the Red Cross. Just be sure you know exactly who is getting your money, not kinda sorta.

When your donation is in response to a tragedy or disaster, find out what the most effective way to give is. Most of the time, with time being of the essence and the needs of those affected being so diverse, sending cash to a charity that is providing relief is the smartest option. There will be news reports of how people have lost everything and need food and clothing, among other things. If you pack a box of food and clothing, it may create logistical issues and delays. Sending clothing means that the charity will have to sort through the clothing, separating it by gender and size. They may have to clean this clothing and then determine how to get the clothing to people who it will actually fit. All this takes up a lot of time and money to do. Nothing is more mobile than money and this money can then be used to get exactly what is needed. Food has similar challenges, including navigating food safety issues. Of course, there is a time and a place where food and clothing donations are appropriate – around the holidays there are often coat and food drives. With these, it is helpful to know that a lot of clothing donation bins that you may see actually belong to for profit entities that then sell your donations for their personal gain. Be aware of this as you give and check to make sure that the bin belongs to a non-for-profit organization.

There are causes and issues that will greatly benefit from your gifts and donations this holiday. It may feel tedious that you need to research the causes that you wish to give to but that is because we live in a world where we need to be on the lookout for greedy scam artists. If you can give, give with your heart but don’t forget to consult with your head first.

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