Avoiding charity scams during the holidays

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 11/20/2012 6:19 pm Published: 11/20/2012 3:50 pm

Tis the season of the scam artist.

A local Tulsa woman nearly got taken this week as she was trying to help someone.

Crooks aren't shy, sometimes bold enough to ask for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And experts say they're getting better at tricking people with an array of techniques.

Shannon Steinmitz was gassing up at the QuikTrip on 71st Street near Riverside when she was approached with an interesting "sob" story.

"I was stopped by two ladies in kind of an old, beat up car, and they were kind of 20s, 30s, somewhere in there," Steinmitz said. "And they said 'hey, could you give us some gas money? We've got a grandbaby.'"

Believing them, she went inside and prepaid $20 worth of gas. But a few minutes later the QuikTrip cashier called her back inside.

"[The attendants] were amazing and aware, and noticed these two ladies were pulling a scam," Steinmitz said. "And what they had done was try to get 69 cents of gas, come back in, get the change and head out."

Rick Brinkley, Chief Operating Officer for the Tulsa Better Business Bureau, said such sob stories are not uncommon and often far from the truth.

"They almost badger people into the point of giving, or even being afraid not to give," Brinkley said.

Then there are the copy-cat charity scammers who trick you with sound alike names.

"Instead of Make-A-Wish, it may be Give-A-Wish," Brinkley said.

He says the most important thing to do before donating to any person or organization is to do your research.

"If you want to give to help the poor, to help the homeless then you need to do your background checks on local charities that actually benefit those," Brinkley said.

He also recommends only donating cash in small amounts. Any donation over a few bucks should be given with a check or credit card, because you never know if cash is going where you hoped or into somebody's pocket.

Also, never donate to a charity soliciting door to door, unless you're absolutely certain it's legitimate. Brinkley said very few legitimate charities collect donations door to door anymore.

And if somebody asks you for food, buy them food rather than handing over cash. The same is true if somebody asks for gas. Steinmitz's experience is the perfect explanation of why.

"Those who are in need will take what you offer them," Brinkley said.

But the sad part is that every dollar going to scam artists is a dollar not going to help those who are truly in need.

"You realize that there are children in this community who will not be able to get the food they need because somebody ripped somebody else off," Brinkley said. "I think there's a special place in hell for these kinds of people."

Steinmitz is just glad she was able to learn her lesson without really paying the price.

"It made me realize just how aware and how wise you have to be this time of year," she said. "And how important it is not to stop giving. But, just to be very aware and very wise this time of year."

Click here to see the local Better Business Bureau's list of legitimate local charities to donate to.

Click here to see the national Better Business Bureau's list of legitimate national charities to donate to.

Click here to research a charity and see where the organization is spending its money.

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