Scam artists prey on grief-stricken - Inland Empire - Scientology
14 Sep 2001
Inland Southern California - 14 september 2001 - BY BEN GOAD and PAT O'BRIEN
Attack on America
Scam artists prey on grief-stricken
CRIME: Police are on the lookout for people trying to take advantage of the East Coast tragedy.
Even in times of great disaster, amid a national outcry for selflessness, some people look to make a quick buck.
No illegal scams based in the Inland area have been reported. But officials already havelearned of Internet-based plots, and local authorities warn of the potential for people to use this week's tragic events on the East Coast for their own financial gain.
Such angling began within minutes of Tuesday's attack on Manhattan, as men and women snapped photos of the burning World Trade Center and grabbed for pieces of debris. Hours later, more than 180 items relating to the disaster were put up for bid as souvenirs on eBay.
Worse, local officials say, are those who may try to take advantage of the generosity of mourning Americans with illegal scams devised in light of the devastation.
"This is a good time for people to come up with these crazy schemes to bilk people out of their money," said Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Mark Lohman. "We have people standing in line for six hours just to give blood. If they want to help that much, a lot of them will jump at the chance to donate money."
Ray Humphrey, president of the United Way of the Inland Valleys, said he learned of one scam involving a bogus e-mail message distributed this week. The e-mail asks for donations to the Red Cross and victims of the World Trade Center tragedy, but it links visitors to a private Web site, apparently designed to steal credit card numbers. The site appears to have been shut down.
Another scam involves the sale of phone cards with images of New York City and claims to donate a portion of the proceeds to the victims, Humphrey said.
"Anyone getting an e-mail asking for gifts should not participate in that," Humphrey said. "Legitimate charities won't do that kind of solicitation. There is a probability that it is fraudulent."
Sgt. Lohman said that in the past, Inland con artists have been known to solicit money under false pretenses. In most cases, the criminals will prey on people vulnerable from tragedy.
"There have been cases where a suspect will say he's raising money for the family of a murder victim," he said. "Of course, the relatives never see any of the money."
Officials in San Bernardino County also were on the lookout for scams, which often incorporate phony post office boxes and fabricated charities, San Bernardino police Sgt. Mitch Kimball said. On the national level too, organizations are well aware of the potential for charity scams.
Gary Almond, general manager of the Better Business Bureau of the Southland, which serves Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties, said that some bureaus in the country have reported consumer queries about telemarketing solicitations.
"We know it's occurring," he said. "People are better off not to respond to these calls but to go directly to the organizations. They can make (donations) to their church, the Red Cross or the United Way."
Ben Goad can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 890-4450.
Tips to Avoid Scams
o Be cautious of emotional appeals.
o Do not give credit card information to solicitors.
o Do not give cash.
o Make checks to charitable organizations only.
o Check out charities.
SOURCE: THE BETTER BUINESS BUREAU
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