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Keep a Weather Eye for Scam Artists

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the IRS and numerous consumer protection organizations are warning citizens to be on the alert for opportunistic scam artists who prey on the needs of the storm victims and the sympathies of those trying to help the storm victims.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers "about urgent appeals for charitable donations and cautions residents in stricken areas about fraudulent home repair offers."  Similarly, according to a recent IRS release, "following major disasters, it's common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers.  Such fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, email or in-person solicitations."

Both the IRS and FTC provide a list of consumer tips for making charitable contributions to aid storm victims:

• Only donate to charities you know and trust.  Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight and be wary of charities with names that are similar to nationally known organizations.

• Don't give out personal financial information -- such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords -- to anyone who solicits a contribution from you.

• Don't give or send cash.  For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

• Confirm the identity of legitimate charities by searching the IRS web site, contacting the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org, or by checking the Federal Emergency Management Agency web site at www.fema.gov.

To avoid home repair and contractor fraud, the FTC provides the following consumer tips:

• Ask for copies of the contractor's general liability and worker's compensation insurance.  Check the contractor's identification and references.

• Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.

• Deal with reputable people in your community.

• Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.

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