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Consumer Alert: Check charities carefully before donating

Check charities carefully before donating (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – Many people contribute to charities each year, but do they really know where their money is going?

Criminals can use the spirit of giving to their advantage. That is one of the reasons why it's important to first ask questions.

There are lots of charities seeking money for great causes, but, as you'll see it's very important to check out a charity before you write a check.

“When you hear it's for children, everybody wants to help out children when it's for children,” said Patricia Shoemaker.

Which is why Patricia Shoemaker and thousands of other people donated money to “Helping Out” and the “Smiles for Kids Foundation” when they received the pamphlet in the mail.

Both charities were raising money for children battling cancer, so she sent a check.

Then, she started to get phone calls.

“Someone calling saying you really need to send your check in right now because the kids are really counting on you,” said Patricia Shoemaker, who is a victim of fraud.

The aggressive nature of the calls made her think twice.

“When you're donating it, you're donating it because it is out of your heart. You don't expect someone to say I’m really expecting it… ‘give it to me,’” said Shoemaker.

Turns out it was all a sham.

Clifford Edwards was setting up call centers for the two fake charities.

Over a three-year span, 3,600 people gave Edwards more than $120,000.

“I was naive to the fact of what could happen. That has really opened my eyes,” said Shoemaker.

“He was using the money for his personal expenses and not one single penny was going out to benefit kids with cancer,” said Eduardo Andrade, a US Postal Inspector.

Postal inspectors say that before you agree to give any money to a charity, you should look them up.

“Get the specific name of the organization that is calling you and put the word scam right next to it and just google that and you would be surprised to see how many other people complain about these people,” said Andrade.

Patricia says the experience has made it hard for her to trust any organization. If she gets any aggressive calls repeatedly asking for money, she knows what to say.

“No. I'm not going to give. Take me off your call list and if you don't I will give your name to a lawyer and we will prosecute… and that just shuts a bunch of phone calls down,” said Patricia.

Clifford Edwards was charged with 20 counts of mail fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.

He was also ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to victims.

Don't be afraid to ask questions if someone is asks you to donate money.

He says ask for the specific name of the charity and research it online.

Don't give your credit card or financial information to any unknown callers and be wary of overly aggressive or high pressure tactics.

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