By Elliott Greenblott
Once again “It’s the most wonderful time” as we see school advertisements for back to school supplies returning to remind us of the season. And once again, we need to be on the lookout for con-artists and scammers who use the anxiety, uncertainty, and possible near panic to prey upon us. These criminals are targeting students and parents from elementary school to post graduate college enrollees. While some scams apply to all ages, these first four seem to be more directed to elementary and high school students and focus primarily on parents.
As soon as the school year begins so does the fundraising: class trips, scholarships, foreign exchange student funding, supplemental supplies or equipment, community improvement — the list goes on. These efforts include selling food or merchandise, cash donations, event tickets, and even home services such as leaf raking.
For parents, grandparents, educators and community members, it is natural to want to help kids and schools. Here are a few tips to follow which can save you from having someone take advantage of your generosity. When approached, verify the identity of the individual and the authenticity of the cause for which the money is sought. If you are approached by a student or adult you do not know, ask for personal identification as well as their school, the name of the group raising funds, and the name of the school group sponsor, and write down this information. You would also be wise to ask questions about the objective of the fund raising; How much money are you trying to raise? What exactly is the money being used for? How will you benefit from this fundraiser? Step away from making the donation or purchase if responses are vague or incomplete and notify the school and local law enforcement of a possible scam. Do not donate until you have been able to complete the verification. Use a check made out to the school or organization if you decide to make the donation. Never use cash or pay using a gift card.
Another caution concerns “Who’s Who” programs that mail letter to students. These promotions often feature an elaborately complimentary letter of introduction, application form, and an invoice. The program is presented as an exclusive listing of select students who are deserving of special recognition. In some cases, the company promoting the program will state that inclusion will increase the likelihood of college acceptance.
The letter and accompanying invoice promote the purchase of a copy of the book that lists the individuals who are identified by the program.