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CONSUMER ALERT: Wash. officials warn of consumer rip-offs by mudslide charity scams

Scam Alert

OLYMPIA — As donors consider contributing to relief efforts for the Snohomish County mudslide tragedy, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Secretary of State Kim Wyman are urging consumers to be on guard against scam artists who try to take advantage of the situation.

The officials joined forces with the Better Business Bureau in reminding consumers that rip-off artists follow news coverage of natural disasters like this one and swoop in under the guise of helping victims, but end up victimizing the well-intended donors.

“All of us in Washington and around the country have deep sympathy for the victims and their loved ones and friends at this tragic time,” Ferguson said.

“It is a natural instinct to want to provide assistance right away, but Secretary Wyman, the BBB and I advise potential donors to exercise caution and make sure their hard-earned dollars go for the purpose intended, not to line the pockets of scam-artists.”

Wyman added: “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this horrific mudslide.  So much was lost by so many. I’m heartened that many Washingtonians have a strong impulse to be a part of the relief effort, at least financially, and to help the victims of this tragedy. I support that, obviously.

“But as the Attorney General and I continue to emphasize in times like these, sadly there always seem to be rip-off artists who take advantage of people. It is shameful, but some so-called charities take advantage of our generous nature.  I want people to donate to charities they know and trust, if that’s their desire, and I want no one’s money used to simply line some con-artist’s pocket.”

BBB joined in the consumer alert.

“We are saddened at the loss of life and devastation caused by the mudslides in Oso,” said Tyler Andrew, CEO of Better Business Bureau, serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “We know helping those in need is a top priority, but people must be proactive and careful to ensure that gifts are effectively used for making a difference in the community.”

The BBB, Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Secretary of State’s charities program offered these tips for prudent gift-giving:

•    Be suspicious of solicitors requesting immediate donations. Don’t rush decisions and consider contributing at give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
•    Make sure that charities are qualified to provide the type of disaster relief that is necessary.
•    Avoid cash donations. Write a check directly to the charity, not the fundraiser.
•    Never give out credit card numbers over the phone.
•    Be wary of “new” charities with unverifiable background information.
•    Watch out for solicitations from fake “victim” or memorial social media accounts.
•    Don’t be fooled by a name. Be watchful of charities that use sympathetic sounding names or names similar to well-known legitimate charities.

The Better Business Bureau, the Washington Attorney General and Secretary of State advise consumers to contact potential charities directly. For more information on finding charities, visit BBB’s charity review or theSOS charity lookup. Consumers can also visit the SOS web site for tips on giving wisely.

New scam sweeping US, hoping you return the call after “One Ring”

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First recognized by Better Business Bureaus on the East Coast, the “One Ring” phone scam is now being reported across the United States. As an industry leader in identifying and tracking emerging scam trends, BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is alerting the public to this simple—yet extremely effective—ploy that can result in unauthorized charges on wireless statements.

Automated dialers blast thousands of random calls to mobile numbers that are gleaned from public listings or obtained from black market dealers—who hustle “sucker lists”—but disconnect after one ring. The scammers count on call recipients to notice the missed calls in call logs and return them out of curiosity.

However, return calls are often directed to expensive international hotlines—sometimes peddling “adult entertainment”—that can charge upwards of $19.95 to connect plus additional costs per minute. Charges typically appear on month-end statements as “premium services.”

Consumers and businesses report calls from several different area codes:

  • Dominican Republic—809
  • Jamaica—876
  • British Virgin Islands—284
  • Grenada—473

 

The illegal process of sneaking unapproved charges onto phone bills is referred to as “cramming” by the Federal Trade Commission, and is one of the most common consumer complaints in America.

While it is unlikely that recipients will be billed for accepting incoming calls, wireless carriers assume that users accept charges by voluntarily returning calls. BBB reminds consumers to not be dumb with smartphones:

  • Never return calls to unfamiliar foreign numbers.
  • Regularly check wireless statements and immediately report discrepancies.
  • Add phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry and report violations.

For more information on the latest scams, visit BBB’s Scam Source.