Donor beware: Don't fall for typhoon relief charity scams

Churches and charities are springing into action to help typhoon victims in the Philippines, and scammers are springing into action too. I decided to pose as a scammer for part of the day, to show how charity scams can fool you even if you think you can spot a fraud.

I made up a fake name -- Anita Yenom -- and came up with the name for a fake, but legit sounding charity. Yenom, by the way, is simply money spelled backwards. Because scammers "a-need-a your money." It's the only reason they call.

Most people who answered the phone immediately said no when I made the pitch. Missy in Redmond even gave "Anita" a tongue lashing and slammed down the phone. But David in Seattle apologized, explaining to "Anita" that he was unemployed and didn't have any extra money to give. When I explained who I was and the real reason I was calling, he told me that with the Philippines so much in the news that my solicitation as "Anita" got his sympathy.

"Usually I'm very upset when somebody calls my cell and I don't know who it is. But you said Philippines relief and I knew there was a big storm, so I just automatically assumed," , David explained.

It turns out David, like many others, is already helping the Philippine relief effort through his church.

Mark in Longview was assertive. He challenged "Anita" for more information about where the money for her charity was going, and what percentage actually went to the actual cause, versus, fundraising, administration and marketing. He insisted on getting information in the mail so he could verify what Anita was telling him. In hind sight, he said he would not do that next time, since the scammer could share his address with other scammers.

Regardless of what you're told, never give money or personal informaiton to strangers claiming to represent a charity you don't already deal with or have never heard of. SInce scammers often use legit-sounding charity names, it's best to take the information and verify it independently. One of the best places to check out any charity, is Charity Navigator, a non-profit online service that rates charities based on where the money really goes.

The Secretary of State in Olympia also has a charity search website that can help. Remember: Scammers follow the headlines, and where you see a chance to help people in need during a disaster, scammers see a chance to take line their pockets.