Monday, December 1, 2008

Watch your back: avoid becoming a victim of holiday scams


By David Gewirtz

It's interesting, and sad, that a publication like OutlookPower has to spend so much time talking about scams and how to protect yourself. But email is a mass communication tool and with anything that has mass effect, you have people doing good and people doing not so good. Email certainly has provided enormous benefits to vast numbers of people, but it also creates risks.

In this time of holiday celebration, many of us share goodwill, while others seek to tap into that goodwill for nefarious gain. So, before you start thinking about giving, make sure you watch your back.

Last year, Americans gave more than $240 billion to the more than 700,000 charities that solicit your donations each year. From the disastrous tsunami that hit the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia in late December to the havoc of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, Americans dug deep to support local, regional, national and international relief efforts. Many of our international friends were also very giving, providing us some hope for humanity's soul.

People also tend to give more during the holiday season, which, unfortunately, tends to bring out the dark side of human nature, making the holiday period a favorite target of scam-artists hoping to funnel your good will for their own selfish gain. How can you avoid becoming a victim of a holiday scam?

"It pays to be cautious when you make your donations," says Dr. Rhonda Hackett, founder of Nivek, an organization which has directly helped more than 100,000 people living in poverty. "It's important to be sure that the money is going to a legitimate charity, and that most of your dollars wind up actually helping those programs and people you intend to help."