While Christmas is the season for giving, it may be wise to know who you’re giving to as scammers have their hands out during the holidays.
“Know who you’re giving to,” urges Rachel Powers, director of programs for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance as she and Bill Giannini, deputy commissioner of the department, spoke with McMinnville Noon Rotary on Thursday. “Every year there are people who will ask for donations to various charities. Some are legitimate and some are not.”
Powers said there are a number of websites and tools people can use if they want to give to charity. The Tennessee Secretary of State website is one of them as it has a list of registered charities that can be viewed by the public.
Powers listed things those wanting to donate money should do before actually contributing to a charity that is not well known to them.
“The first thing to do is see if they’re registered with the state,” she recommended, noting you should not rush into giving but instead take your time to ensure the charity is legitimate. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask them what their mission is and what does the money go to. Ask them how much goes to the organization. Do your research first and always write the check to the organization, not the solicitor.”
Powers noted it is good to avoid giving cash to charitable organizations and it is important to write things down.
Along with being careful about giving, Giannini said people should beware of being scammed through credit and debit cards. It can literally happen to anyone, he noted, admitting he recently had his identity stolen.
“Thieves also seem to be one step ahead,” Giannini said. “When we figure out a scam, they move on to a new one.”
Giannini suggests using a credit card instead of a debit card because debit cards are more vulnerable. He also recommends getting cards that have security chips.
“Change your passwords regularly,” Giannini said, noting many people keep financial information on their phone and don’t even realize it. “Having a cellphone compromised could mean one’s entire financial life is at risk.”
Giannini said his office received 5,000 complaints last year, many of which they were able to resolve by various means. Most of the reports, Giannini said, have to do with complaints against businesses. The top five complaints were against utilities, debtor/creditors, landlords, insurance and healthcare.
“Complaints can be filed online,” Giannini said, suggesting those with issues about a scam or a business may go the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs website and register the complaint.
There are several databases available online where people can check for scams. The Better Business Bureau offers an online database about companies and the AARP also has a list of scams and where they happen. You may also go to www.verifytn.gov to see if a person has a professional license.
Giannini urges people to be vigilant since there are so many scams out there.
“For instance, there’s the IRS scam where someone reporting to be from the IRS calls and threatens to put them in jail if they don’t pay their back taxes,” Giannini said. “The IRS never calls anyone. If you get a call from someone from the IRS, it’s a scam.”
Giannini says if you are the victim of a scam, or the attempted victim, you should call law enforcement and register the scam with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.
Giannini and Powers will enlarge upon many of their Noon Rotary topics when they appear in a half-hour conversation in the “Focus” series on public ra-dio 91.3 WCPI. The program will air Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 5 p.m., with additional broadcasts Wednesday at 5:05 a.m.; Thursday at 1 p.m.; and Friday at 1:05 a.m.