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Be wary of scams when donating

State leaders still caution all Ohioans to give wisely when being asked for donations in the wake of this month’s terrorist attacks.

Thursday, September 27, 2001

State leaders still caution all Ohioans to give wisely when being asked for donations in the wake of this month’s terrorist attacks.

Many state residents are giving to legitimate Red Cross, Salvation Army or United Way funds set up to help victims, agencies and others affected by the Sept. 11 tragedies.

But, when it comes to third-party donation requests, Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery has encouraged Ohio residents "to be as wise as they are generous" and to be on the lookout for phony charitable campaigns.

"While we encourage Ohioans to contribute to legitimate groups that are attempting to help those in need, we want everyone to be aware that the possibility for fraud by illegitimate parties

does exist," Montgomery wrote on her Web site.

"We trust that no one would seek to exploit these horrific acts of terrorism, but the unfortunate fact remains that there are individuals and groups in our society that may do so," she said.

Here are some tips for consumers to follow before giving:

– Be wary of charities with "sound-alike" names of more familiar organizations.

– Do not agree to give money over the telephone if: the caller is hesitant to answer your questions; high-pressure sales tactics are used; you are guaranteed to win a prize if you make a donation; the caller offers to have a courier immediately pick up the donation from you instead of waiting to receive it through the mail.

– Under Ohio law, professional solicitors must disclose the following information before asking for a donation: that they are a professional solicitor, the name of the solicitor, the name and address of the charity for whom they are soliciting.

Consumers should ask the following questions when asked to give to charities:

– "Is the charity and professional solicitor registered with the Attorney General’s Office?" State law requires every professional solicitor soliciting in Ohio to be registered. With few exceptions, any charity that hires a solicitor must also be registered.

– "What percentage of my donation will the charity receive?" When asked, the solicitor must disclose this information.

– "What percentage of the charity’s income is spent on administrative and fund-raising costs?" The Better Business Bureau standard says a charity shouldn’t spend more than 50 percent of its income on fund-raising and administrative costs.

– "What is the full name of the charity for which you’re raising money?" Watch out for names that are similar to a well-known, nationally recognized charity. Some unscrupulous organizations use sound-alike names to convince people to give.

– "What are some of the charity’s specific programs and services?" Find out how your donation will be used to ensure that it will be used to assist those victims of the recent tragedy.

"We are truly in a time of great tragedy and a time in which legitimate charitable causes are needed to help the thousands of victims," Montgomery said. "I would encourage all Ohioans to

rally together to benefit our nation, but to do so in a careful, deliberate manner."

Consumers who have questions about charitable giving or suspect solicitations may not be legitimate may call the Attorney General’s Office, toll-free, at 1-800-282-0515.

You can even file an online complaint through the attorney general’s Web site: www.ag.state.oh.us

Ohio Securities Commissioner Debbie Dye Joyce also is warning investors to be on the lookout for opportunistic scams similar to those associated with the Year 2000 computer bug.

Cold-calling phone salespeople, advertisements or Internet postings that tout commodities, exotic financial products or supposed anti-terrorist technologies should be a red flag for investors, Dye Joyce said.

Investors should be especially wary of enticements to send their money offshore to so-called "safe heavens," she added.

Tips offered by the commissioner include hanging up on cold callers or calling the Ohio Division of Securities Investor Protection Hotline at 1-800-788-1194 to ask if the seller is licensed to sell securities in Ohio.