In cases of fraud, scams, or identity theft, all too often the criminals responsible exhibit behaviors that are the lowest of the low, and a recent case tried in Alaska involving a scammer from Michigan just goes to prove it.
Alan Michael Bartlett of Owosso, Michigan, operated two fraudulent charities—U.S. Disabled Veterans, LLC and U.S. Handicapped-Disadvantaged Services, LLC—and bilked consumers out of donations which he then pocketed. But taking money that he claimed would go to serve veterans and the disabled wasn’t bad enough; Bartlett was also found guilty of using information from donors’ checks to steal their identities.
Even more gutsy, after authorities began their investigation into Bartlett’s companies and their activities, he reportedly contacted some of his victims by phone and pretended to be a detective on the case. Authorities believe he tried to minimize the damage by convincing them they had given their statements, and encouraged them not to speak to other investigators, only him, about the issue.
While Bartlett won’t be sentenced until mid-autumn, he currently faces as much as thirty years in prison and fines of around a quarter of a million dollars. This may bring some closure to his victims, but there is another unintended victim in this case: legitimate charities.
There are a wide variety of charitable organizations that provide vital services to the public. Whether it’s veterans’ groups or handicapped services like Bartlett’s companies posed as, or a host of other educational, conservation, or medical relief organizations, charities are a good thing. More importantly, they rely on the continued financial and volunteer support of individuals and businesses. But when reports such as this one circulate, it can result in a loss of trust and a decrease in giving since consumers might be wary of supporting fraud.
Fortunately, there’s no need to stop supporting worthy causes. Instead, consumers can verify the non-profit status and the good standing of any charitable organization before donating. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the IRS maintain records of charities that meet the criteria for trustworthiness, and publish the names of reputable agencies. There are also clearing house-type charities that oversee multiple organizations; groups like The United Way serve as a one-stop needs center that only work with genuine, legitimate charities.
Charity scams and the resulting identity theft work because people really are good at heart. We’re willing to put aside our concerns and make some sacrifices to help those who are less fortunate, and thieves know this all too well. Instead of letting a few bad apples take away your desire and means of giving over data privacy and fraud concerns, look into the group you support before handing anything over. If you’re contacted by phone by a charity you’ve never heard of, wish them well and politely decline until you have a chance to verify their authenticity. Never fall for a “sob story” in an email or loan money to a group or person without fact checking what they plan to do with your funds.