The man on the other end of the phone is desperate. He needs several hundred dollars so he can travel north to be with his dying child. It is a heart-breaking story but some of the pieces don’t add up and when questioned about details, such as where his child is being treated, he can’t provide the answers. You tell him that you are very sorry for his troubles, but you can’t help him right now. That’s when he ends his call abruptly.
A young woman approaches you in the gas station parking lot. She asks you for $20 to help her pay for gas. She just needs to get “down the road a ways” to her grandparents’ home. You start to reach in your wallet and think better of it. You ask her where her car is. She mumbles an answer. You offer to pay for her gas instead of giving her cash and she mumbles, “Whatever,” before walking away.
With economic uncertainty and hard times lingering for many families, there are a lot of people in our community who need help. Unfortunately, these unpredictable times also bring out the con artists. These unworthy individuals go from city to city, house to house and religious organization to religious organization. Their tales of woe pull at the heartstrings of caring and giving individuals and organizations, ultimately conning their victims out of money and making it difficult to get help for those who are truly in need of assistance.
It is only natural to want to help others. However, when making charitable contributions it is important to use your head as well as your heart. Knowing which needs are legitimate and which needs are fabricated can be difficult. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to avoid being conned by these unscrupulous thieves.
• Never give money spontaneously. If possible, investigate the request thoroughly and make certain there is a need.
• When making a donation through crowd funding sites such as GoFundMe, verify the details prior to making the donation.
• Never give cash or gift cards, especially to individuals. Consider donating to charities working your area, rather than giving directly to individuals.
• If a person requests money to pay a utility bill, write a check directly to the utility company and mail it yourself. That way, you know the money is going to be used as you intended.
• When someone requests money for food, purchase groceries or a meal from a restaurant, instead of handing over cash.
While it can be challenging to distinguish between the truly needy and the truly greedy, doing a little bit of homework before giving money will ensure that the funds you give are going to make a difference in someone else’s life, and not end up in the pockets of a scam artist.
Amy Douglas is the Senior Services Coordinator for the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.