CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's disgusting that some connivers concoct deceptions to trick unsuspecting folks out of money. Scams of every possible sort flood America through the Internet, phone calls, email, postal mail and misleading ads. West Virginia's AARP warns that swindlers, to obtain private information to be used in identity theft, even notify people that their Visa cards have been suspended.
Perhaps the cruelest frauds are charity solicitations that prey on good-hearted people who want to help children, sickness victims, struggling veterans and others in need.
Cross Lanes real estate agent Mary Coyne found herself deluged with a string of appeals, all supposedly helping children with cancer -- all from similar-named outfits with sequential post office box numbers in St. Louis.
Reporter Paul Nyden found a Better Business Bureau report warning donors against the St. Louis mailings. A federal disclosure filed by one of the outfits said it collected $817,000 in 2010 and used $24,000 of it for actual charitable work -- just 3 cents of each dollar.
Our advice: Ignore all money requests from unknown charities. However, if you want to double-check on a money-seeker, three online sites offer information. Better Business Bureau endorsements can be found at http://canton.bbb.org/Find-Business-Reviews. Required filings with West Virginia's secretary of state are at http://apps.sos.wv.gov/business/charities/index.aspx. And federal disclosure Form 990s are viewable at www.guidestar.org.
Almost everyone feels a charitable urge. The wisest course is for donors to help their hometown United Way drive -- a one-shot community campaign supporting many worthy local agencies simultaneously. Volunteer committees monitor each member charity to guard against waste or abuse.
If you donate to your local United Way, you needn't worry whether some out-of-state trickster is deceiving you.