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Con artists troll for patriotic consumers

When U.S. troops shipped out to Iraq, con artists headed for Americans' wallets, using patriotism to make a profit.

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. "Fraud perpetrators pick newsworthy events to trigger interest in their marketing ploys," says Ken Hunter, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The latest batch of con artists are profiting off the war effort in a number ways -- from hawking deals on unnecessary survival gear to collecting for bogus charities.

Telemarketer targets troops' family members
Would you pay $100 a month to get daily updates on your family member serving in the military? Many families would, but that's not a service the government is selling. It's a scam thought up by con artists.

Jerry Maness of Service, Ala., has a nephew named William who is serving in the Navy. Maness received a call in early April from a man who seemed to think he was talking to William's father -- not his uncle. The caller promised that for $100 a month his company would give Maness a daily update on William's status. The man asked for Maness's credit card number. Maness didn't fall for it. He called the sheriff.

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"I think you have to be a lowlife sort of person to do something like this," says Maness.

Fake refund fools military families
Another scam targeting military families are callers posing as Internal Revenue Service representatives. A person claiming to be from the IRS calls military family members and says they are entitled to a $4,000 tax refund because their family member is serving in the military. The caller asks for a credit card number to cover a $42 postage fee and gives an IRS toll-free number as a call-back number. While the family member waits for a refund, the scammer is busy making purchases with the credit card. In a variation of this scam, potential victims receive an e-mail that links them to a fake IRS Web site where they are asked to enter their personal and financial information.

The IRS says that genuine IRS employees would not ask for a credit card number, request fees for payment of a refund or request personal information by e-mail. Similar scams target nonmilitary families, as well.

Donating to the wrong cause
Some con artists are taking advantage of Americans' compassion by posing as war-related charities or promising their proceeds to war-related charities -- but never delivering.

Be wary of phone calls, unsolicited e-mails or Web sites asking for donations for veterans, troops, families of troops or war orphans. One Web site promised that 10 percent of the sales of its patriotic T-shirts would benefit the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. The BBB reports the Red Cross never heard of the Web site.

Check out all charities before making a donation.

Likewise, charities and businesses should investigate anyone they give their money to. There have been reports of people posing as veterans asking for donations or willing to do speaking engagements. Numerous Web sites have been set up to verify military service and expose frauds. Soldiers for the Truth, a nonprofit education and information organization, has detailed information on how to verify military service claims. The POW Network has an online database of phony vets and a link to report a suspected phony.

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-- Posted: May 14, 2003
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Checking out a charity
Don't fall for the fake-refund scam
Hiring a licensed contractor
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