The Pitfalls of Helping

Sep 132005
Authors: Ryan Chapman

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, America has proven once again to be a nation of resiliency and strength. The outpouring of charity both in the form of donations and volunteer work has been nothing short of extraordinary. This kind of compassion and generosity has become routine during tragedy in this country, unfortunately so has the art of ripping off well-meaning citizens.

Practically as soon as the rain had stopped, con artists everywhere had begun dragging themselves out of the gutter in the hope of illegally tapping into the slew of donations being made to the recovery process. The Internet and even your neighborhood are now crawling with scams and gimmicks preying on those looking to help.

The lewd and disgusting act of using a national tragedy as a setup to steal and manipulate has become all too common in the world today.

As we saw after both 9/11 and last year's tsunami, some con artists have no limits. Crimes of this nature are also extremely difficult to track, meaning that most of these sickos will never end up on death row where they belong. The truth of the matter is that most of these criminals will get away with what they are doing and those would-be victims are on their own to defend themselves.

Despite these growing trends, there are ways to avoid paying for some crack addict's next fix with money you thought was buying diapers. According to and the Better Business Bureau's Giving Alliance there are a few simple precautions concerned citizens can take.

First, never donate to charities through e-mails or attachments. Mass e-mails asking for names and credit card numbers are a popular way to steal identities or direct recipients to official-looking Web sites that take donations.

Secondly, make sure your donations are going to a real organization.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army are obvious choices, but with somewhere around 1.5 million nonprofit groups, donating to anyone else may take a little more work. The Web site,, however, provides a list of those groups that are approved by the IRS and are therefore more reputable. Also remember to make checks out to organizations, never to individuals.

Lastly, avoid throwing cash at anyone who is going door-to-door or who sets up a table outside of your local pawn shop. Even if these folks have good intentions, it is practically impossible to check up on them.

While this problem is one that has plagued society for centuries I'm sure, I hope that these pointers provide a little valuable information and that situations like these become less and less common in the future.

I also hope that anyone using this tragedy to their advantage has a miserable life; they deserve it. So, look out for yourselves and your generosity, CSU, because the con artists are everywhere.


Ryan Chapman is a senior marketing major. His column runs every Wednesday in the Collegian.

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