Give, but give wisely

I have been very fortunate during my police career, having served in many different positions within the service. All of these positions were related to front line policing. The 20 some years assigned to Commercial Crime and creating the first National Anti Fraud Call Centre in the World, (PhoneBusters) has defined me both professionally and personally. I have many stories and experiences to share with you. Hopefully, like the students I am teaching during the winter at Nipissing University in North Bay, I will be able to help you from falling prey to the many scams that are waiting for you just around the corner.

I will discuss the many urban myths and some of the real threats that affect you daily. Hopefully, this column will change the way you look at fraud. I also encourage you to share with me any fraudulent events that have happened to you so we can discuss some of those experiences in future articles.

Education is the only successful way to combat fraud. The armament that you need to protect yourself from becoming a victim is knowledge. That knowledge is available everyday in the news. Take the time to read the consumer scams and the criminal fraud stories covered by your favourite daily media.

Christmas is not far off and I was asked to write about the types of scams that pop up during this festive season. The media used to ask me the same question every year. The fact is there are no specific Christmas scams.

However, this is the time of the year when Canadian generosity abounds and that generosity can be twisted to the benefit of the unethical and the criminal. There are thousands of Charities and Not for Profits which open and close every year. You may be surprised to know that these companies are not closely monitored or policed. Some of these companies provide an outstanding service with low administrative costs and some abuse your trust and kindness for their own personal gain.

Most of these dark companies will never face charges of any kind. They might lose their status as a charity but will probably keep all monies collected with no fear of any kind of retribution or prosecution. The owners or their fronts will pop right back up with a new registered charity with a great sounding name that creates the false illusion of being able to do wonderful things for such causes as aiding the handicapped, abused or lost children, the elderly and the sick. International disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are also terrific opportunities for criminals to steal your money.

Remember, you are not a lousy Canadian if you don’t give five or 10 dollars to everyone who knocks on your door or stands in your way when you try to go shopping. In fact when you do give off the cuff you are hurting a lot of honest charities. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Just because these companies are allowed to set up their booth in front of the beer or liquor store, or your favourite shopping mall doesn’t mean that they have been checked or approved by anyone that they are honest. They have simply signed up for an open spot on the calendar to canvass.

The name of the organization may bring tears to your eyes which of course is why it was chosen. Don’t let your emotions control your generosity. Ask lots of questions before you give them even 10 cents. Also be careful with agencies that have registered names that” sound alike” established charities who have been operating for many years.

We have the power to control the dishonest companies by not allowing them to profit from our lack of knowledge and our abused generosity. If they can’t make a profit they will be defeated.

Give, but give wisely. You should budget how much you wish to give at the beginning of each year. Take the time to research one or two national charities that operate with low administrative costs that give full honest disclosure on their annual operational expenses. If you have questions don’t be afraid to call them and ask. And ensure that you give directly to the company without going through a third party such as a hired telemarketing company who may be keeping up to 85 per cent of the donation for their fee.

When choosing a charity remember to look closer to home. Most communities have very worthwhile causes that offer great services to those in need. Meals on Wheels is one worthwhile example of a local not for profit where you can donate volunteer time and money.

Fund raising by local charities now usually comes with a disclaimer that 100 per cent of monies raised goes to the cause with the costs being donated by local businesses such as T.V., radio stations and news print.

International giving is far more complex and difficult for governments to monitor how an organization’s money is actually being spent. Extremist groups have and will use charity fronts to raise and deliver the monies for their specific cause. Again there are worthwhile international organizations but take the time to check them out. I’ve always believed that it is the duty of the Federal Government to act on our behalf by giving aid directly or through legitimate non government organizations when responding to a natural disaster.

Lastly, a lot of businesses are approached to sell display boxes of goodies which they are happy to assist. My rule is if the display is for a not for profit outside of my community I never support it and I ask the company if they have any idea what this organization is doing and why they don’t support something local and more accountable. These monies leave our community and never return based on blind trust.

The bottom line: give, but give wisely.

Photo © Feng Yu

Do you have a question about fraud – or a recent experience to share? Feel free to email Barry Elliott at [email protected]. Please note that Mr. Elliott will not be able to answer all your emails, but your questions and experiences may become topics in his upcoming columns.

Barry ElliottBarry Elliott is founder of PhoneBusters, the first National Anti-fraud Call Center in the world. An Ontario Provincial Police officer for over 32 years, he continues to help people arm themselves against identity theft through his business ID Theft Solutions. Visit his website at