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BBB and Give.org Offer Tips on Helping Texas in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

The Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance are advising people to help as much as they can in the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, but to do so with caution and make sure their donations get to the people who need it most.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey prompts us to do what we can to help as soon as possible,” said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB’s Give.org,) “but donors need to be aware of some key cautions so that their generosity will get to those in need quickly.”

The National Weather Service reports that Hurricane Harvey has brought over 20 inches of rain to portions of southeast Texas and the volume of flooding is unprecedented for this area. And, another 15-25 inches of rain is anticipated in the days to come. As the impact of this storm on Texas communities is heart wrenching, many will seek to contribute to help those in need.

BBBs are already seeing crowdfunding appeals of a dubious nature, and in the days ahead expect to see “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off of clean-up efforts (bbb.org/storm). Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker) or the Texas Attorney General’s hotline (800-621-0508 or consumeremergency@nag.texas.gov).

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:

  1. Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
  2. See 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 website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
  3. 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.
  4. Be cautious about 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.
  5. Understand crowdfunding. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who you personally know that have posted requests for assistance. For more Give.org tips on crowdfunding, check out this Wise Giving Wednesday post.
  6. Phases of disaster relief. Remember that every disaster has several phases – rescue, emergency relief, and recovery. Each part relies on public support and continuing funding for success. The need for donations doesn’t stop when the headlines do.
  7. Recovery time line. For many communities, recovery will be a long-term activity that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. Those truly concerned about helping communities bounce back will have many opportunities to help.
  8. Disaster planning. Although it may seem obvious, no one wants to experience a repeat performance of a disaster. Areas that work toward recovery will probably also need to develop plans to better respond to a similar storm in the future. Even those that already had measures in place can find ways to improve based on experience.

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The following is a list of BBB Accredited Charities (i.e., organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability) that are raising funds for Hurricane Harvey relief assistance. This list will be updated as additional relief efforts come to BBB WGA’s attention.

American Red Cross

AmeriCares

Church World Service

Direct Relief

GlobalGiving Foundation

Humane Society of the United States

Islamic Relief USA

MAP International

Operation USA

Salvation Army

Save the Children

United Methodist Committee on Relief

United Way of Greater Houston

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national and international programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation

ABOUT BBB WGA: BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) is a standards-based charity evaluator that seeks to verify the trustworthiness of charities by completing rigorous evaluations based on 20 holistic standards that address charity governance, results reporting, finances, fundraising, appeal accuracy and other issues. National charity reports are produced by the BBB WGA and local charity reports are produced by local Better Business Bureaus – all reports are available at Give.org.

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Blog: Be on the Lookout for Counterfeit Bills

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Anytime money comes from a place which is thought to be legitimate and it turns out that it has in fact been produced illegally, the person is concluded to have committed the crime of counterfeiting.

Anyone caught passing fake money, even if they are not responsible for making it, will be charged for going against the laws of counterfeiting. This is because the federal government is the one legally responsible for distributing legal tender.

The following irregularities have been reported on counterfeit bills discovered this year:

The one hundred dollar bills have Chinese markings on the front and back with a string of dashes in the top right corner on the front of the bill and in the top left corner on the back of the bill.

The fifty, twenty and ten dollar bills are discolored and the cut of the bills is uneven. The same serial number has been duplicated on several bills as well.

“It’s important to know the marks of real cash,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “It is worth taking the extra few seconds to look for irregularities.”

BBB provides the following tell-tale signs of counterfeit bills:

  1. Color shifting ink

The first thing to do is to look at the bottom right corner and check whether the color shifts when you tilt it. By the “20” on a $20 bill, the color is copper, but when you tilt it, the color changes to green(ish). On the new $100 bills, the color change from copper to green happens on the liberty bell symbol.

  1. Red and blue threads

On an authentic bill, there are threads woven in and out of the note. Most counterfeiters try to achieve this look by printing red and blue threads on the surface of the note. If you look closely at their work, you will see that the threads are on the surface.

3. Watermark

This is usually a copy of the portrait on the note. The watermark can only be seen when you hold the note up against the light. The watermark should be on the right side of the bill and should be an exact replica of the portrait on the note. If there is no watermark when you hold up the note against the light, then it is definitely counterfeited.

4. Security Thread

The security strip runs vertically on the note and can be seen when held up against a light. You won’t find this feature on a counterfeit bill.

Here are some things that businesses should do to protect themselves against counterfeit money:

  • Keep an eye on local news. Counterfeit bills tend to come in spurts. If counterfeit money is showing up in your community, your police department’s Facebook page or local news outlets should spread the news.
  • Report any counterfeits to the police or your local Secret Service field office. This can help authorities track down the source and prevent further damage to your community.
  • Stay alert during busy times. Counterfeiters exploit the frenzy caused by having many customers in a store at once. Businesses and shoppers should pay particular attention during the holiday season and other times when business may be up.

If you are suspicious:

  • Hold a suspicious note against an original
  • Ask for a different bill
  • Prevention for Businesses
    • Make sure staff know where serial numbers and signatures should be
    • Invest in Technology – (watermark lamps, magnetic ink scanners, UV lights)
    • Make sure your business has insurance which covers any loss which arises from receiving counterfeit money.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB at 903-581-5704 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.

About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.

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Don’t Cash That Check: An Inside Look Into Fake Check Scams

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BBB Study Shows How Fake Check Scams Bait Consumers

An in-depth study by Better Business Bureau finds that, while consumers may write fewer checks in this era of electronic financial transactions, fake check scams are on the rise. Fake checks are used in a variety of frauds, from employment scams to prize and sweepstakes fraud. In all cases, victims deposit the check and send money back to scammers. BBB warns consumers to be on guard against these serious and pervasive frauds and their perpetrators.

The investigative study– “Don’t Cash That Check: Better Business Bureau Study Shows How Fake Check Scams Bait Consumers” — looks at how fake checks dupe consumers. It digs into the scope of the problem, who is behind it, and the need for law enforcement and consumer education to address the issue. Read the complete report here.

Scammers often succeed because consumers don’t realize:

 

  • Crediting a bank account does not mean the cashed check is valid.

 

Federal banking rules require that when someone deposits a check into an account, the bank must make the funds available right away – within a day or two. Even when a check is credited to an account, it does not mean the check is good. A week or so later, if the check bounces, the bank will want the money back. Consumers, not the fraudsters, will be on the hook for the funds.

  1. Cashier’s checks and postal money orders can be forged. A cashier’s check is a check guaranteed by a bank, drawn on the bank’s own funds and signed by a cashier. If a person deposits a cashier’s check, the person’s bank must credit the account by the next day. The same holds true for postal money orders. Scammers use cashier’s checks and postal money orders because many people don’t realize they can be forged.

“Young people especially need to understand fake check scams in order to protect themselves,” said Mechele Mills, President and CEO of BBB serving Central East Texas. “Fake check scammers rely on misunderstandings about checking in order to trap their victims. Consumers should remember that banks credit consumer accounts before verifying that checks are valid, and should make sure to do their homework with the check’s issuer before accepting it.”

Fake check fraud is a huge problem, with complaints to regulatory agencies and consumer watchdog groups doubling over the last three years.

Fraud employing fake checks is rapidly growing and costing billions of dollars. Fake checks were involved in 7 percent of all complaints filed with BBB’s Scam Tracker. The number of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center more than doubled between 2014 and 2017.

Based on complaint data trends, the study suggests that there may be over 500,000 victims of counterfeit checks in 2017.

The study found the fraud affects victims of all ages and income levels, but consumers between 20-29 reported being victimized by the scam more than consumers of any other age range.

One St. Louis college student lost hundreds of dollars in a mystery shopper scam using a fake check. After responding to a very professional-looking online job listing for a mystery shopper, he was sent a cashier’s check for almost $2,000. Per instructions, he deposited the check, “mystery shopped” several businesses, and sent $885 to two addresses. His bank informed him later that the $2,000 check was not valid, and he would have to repay the $885 he sent. Although he was able to set up a payment plan to repay it, the loss has been difficult for the local student.

The National Consumers League, which also receives complaints from fraud victims at fraud.org, found that fake checks complaints in 2017 were up 12% and was the second most common type of complaint over all, after online order issues.

Nigerian gangs appear to be behind most of this fraud, often using romance fraud victims and other “money mules” to receive money from victims. Many fake checks and money orders are shipped to the U.S. from Nigeria.

The report recommends:

  • Organizations such as BBB and regulatory agencies should do more to provide fake check fraud prevention education.
  • With wide-scale use of money mules and others to assist in frauds, it would be useful for law enforcement agencies to work collaboratively to both identify these individuals and to take action to ensure that they end these activities.
  • Investigative agencies may need more resources to effectively prosecute fake checks and other widespread frauds.
  • Continued law enforcement coordination and training with enforcement counterparts in Nigeria and elsewhere should remain important and should be strengthened.
  • Banks and financial institutions might consider more collective efforts to educate their customers about fake check frauds.

What to do if you have deposited a fake check into your account:

  • Victims who are seniors or other vulnerable adults may be able to obtain help through Adult Protective Services, which has offices in every state and many counties. Find a local office at elderjustice.gov.

Read these tips to avoid becoming a scam victim.

 

About BBB

BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.

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Keep an Eye Out: School “Fundraisers” That Will Drain Your Funds

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Be on the Lookout for Youth Donation Scams

With the school year just underway for East Texas schools, scammers will stand outside supermarkets or other neighborhood stores asking for donations to help the local football team, band, or other cause. They may even knock on doors in your neighborhood. Most often, these fundraising efforts are legitimate and go towards a worthwhile cause, but in some cases, they are merely a way to rip-off charitable citizens.

“It’s important not to fall prey to an emotional appeal before donating to any charitable cause without first doing your homework”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “With a simple phone call to the school, or by going to the district’s website you should be able to verify the legitimacy of a ‘school fundraiser’.”  

BBB provides the following donation tips in mind the next time you consider giving to any charity or cause:

  • Watch Out for High Pressure-Solicitations. Do not give in to excessive pressure for an immediate donation. Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion but short on describing what the charity will actually do to meet their organizational goals.
  • Protect your Personal Information. Never give your credit card number or other personal information in response to an unsolicited telephone call, email or personal message on your social media profile from someone that is soliciting a donation.
  • Ask Questions. Do not hesitate to ask for written information that describes the charity’s programs, community reputation, privacy policy and financial standing. If a charity is reluctant to answer these reasonable questions, it should be considered a red flag.
  • Avoid Giving Cash. Cash donations are difficult to track, making it harder for consumers to get tax deductions and easier for scammers to go unnoticed. It is best to use a credit or debit card which offers consumers protection in case a problem arises. If you must write a check, make it out to the name of the charitable organization, never to the individual collecting the donation.
  • Be Wary of Imitations. Keep an eye out for fake charities that imitate the name and style of well-known organizations in order to potentially steal personal information such as credit card numbers.
  • Confirm Text Code Numbers. If you plan to donate by text message, confirm the text code number directly with the charity. Also, keep in mind that text message donations are typically not immediate. Depending on your cell phone provider, the donation may not show up on your bill for 30 to 90 days.
  • Find out about Tax Deductibility in Advance. For your donation to be tax deductible, the charity must be tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Visit IRS Publication 78 on irs.gov for a current list of all organizations eligible to receive contributions that are deductible as charitable gifts.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report a fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB Hotline: (903)581-8373 or use BBB Scam Tracker.

About BBB:

For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2017, people turned to BBB more than 160 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.


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