Season’s fleecing: Beware of fake holiday charities

The winter holidays typically bring out the best in people, with more giving to charities. But they also bring out the worst, with scammers stealing donations that are intended to help the less fortunate.

With Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa nearing, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning about charity fraud.

The FBI suggests giving to established charities or groups whose work you know and trust. Check the charity’s website — most legitimate charity organizations use .org and not .com.

The bureau suggests you do some research, including using the Federal Trade Commission’s resources to examine the track record of a charity.

If you decide to donate, the FBI said it’s best to use a check or credit card. “If a charity or organization asks you to donate through cash, gift card, virtual currency or wire transfer, it’s probably a scam.”

The Federal Trade Commission also has consumer advice about Donating Safely and Avoiding Scams.

Be wary of sound-alike charities

According to the FBI, “be aware of organizations with copycat names or names similar to reputable organizations.”

Last week, a Maryland man was sentenced to five years in prison for a scheme that bilked benevolent donors out of their charitable contributions — in part, by using bogus names that sound legitimate.

James Trankle, 55, was sentenced Dec. 1 in federal court in D.C. for conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud.

Between 2013 and 2018, Trankle and co-defendant Stephen Sibert created fake charities, registered those entities with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and presented them as legitimate charities, prosecutors said.

“Among the examples included the bogus Disable and Paralyzed Veterans Fund, the National Breast Center Awareness Fund, and the Children’s Leukemia of America Fund, according to a news release from the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The fraudulent charities did not perform any of the charitable work described in their solicitations through the U.S. mail.

According to prosecutors, the duo stole more than $200,000, and kept the proceeds.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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