PFD time is fraud prime time
On Oct. 3, approximately 650,000 Alaskans will wake up with an extra $900, so Better Business Bureau is taking the opportunity to encourage Permanent Fund Dividend recipients to shop smart and donate thoughtfully. Scammers and schemers are sure to notice the $567 million addition to the local and national economy, and taking advantage of unsuspecting seniors will likely be a top priority.
“Seniors and baby boomers are the fastest growing demographic, and they are relentlessly targeted by scammers,” says Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “Alaskan seniors really need to be on their toes this time of year.”
BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington typically sees an increase in inquiries and complaints from elderly Alaskans in the weeks following dividend payments. Many of the inquiries are in regard to charitable solicitations and many of the complaints are lodged against out-of-state companies.
In general, avoid situations where significant upfront fees are requested:
Investment seminars. Seniors often live on fixed incomes, making “high return” investments extremely appealing. Beware if “free” seminars pitch “guaranteed” or “zero-risk” investment opportunities in real estate, stocks or timeshares, but require upfront fees or cannot provide substantiation of high return claims.
Work-from-home jobs. Unemployment is down, but many seniors are still looking to contribute to household incomes; be aware that very few work-from-home opportunities are legitimate. Avoid jobs where employers are difficult to locate, require upfront payments for “marketing collateral” or starter kits, or simply sound too good to be true.
Talent scouts. Every grandparent thinks that his or her grandson or granddaughter is the cutest and most talented; fraudulent agencies understand this feeling. BBB has learned about schemers that travel the country and host one-day or two-day events to cast models and actors, preying on the emotions of parents and grandparents to secure large down payments for contracts—the companies then skip town or the talent offers never arrive.
Not so charitable
Scammers also attempt to solicit donations in the name of charity; these schemes are especially hurtful because they draw funds away from legitimate causes and give the industry as a whole less credibility. Give with caution:
Be suspicious of solicitors requesting immediate donations. Don’t be pressured, don’t rush decisions and consider contributing at give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Make sure that charities are qualified to provide the type of relief they claim.
Avoid cash donations. Write checks directly to the charity, not the fundraiser.
Never give out personal information like Social Security Numbers or credit card numbers over the phone.
Be wary of “new” charities with unverifiable background information.
Don’t be fooled by a name. Be watchful of charities that use sympathetic sounding names or names similar to well-known legitimate charities.
Alaska law requires that charitable organizations and paid solicitors register with the Department of Law prior to soliciting contributions; a complete list is available at law.state.ak.us/consumer/charityreg.html or by calling 907-269-5200.
Report suspected PFD fraud to the Alaska Department of Revenue’s Permanent Fund Dividend Division at 907-269-0385 in Anchorage and 907-465-2654 in Juneau. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338.
For more shopping tips and charitable giving advice, visit alaska.bbb.org.
Adam Harkness is the Better Business Bureau Alaska Public Relations Manager.