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Officials Caution Donors of Scams

At least one e-mail scam has been reported, and officials say con artists might look to prey on the compassion of people who want to help victims and their families.

In the wake of Tuesday's tragedies, organizations such as the American Red Cross have launched relief efforts nationwide asking for blood and monetary donations.

But Art Englebardt, a member of the Chapel Hill Police Department's community services division, said he wants residents to be wary of potential scams in Chapel Hill. "We are a very giving community," he said. "And this is something people should know about before it happens."

Con artists can take advantage of residents shocked by the crisis in a variety of ways, Englebardt said. These tactics primarily include e-mails, telephone calls or door-to-door ventures, all based on emotional appeals, he said.

CNN reported Friday that a mass e-mail was circulating in New York illegitimately using the Red Cross name to solicit money. According to CNN, the e-mail misleads readers by pretending to link to the charity's Web site.

Englebardt said people might be more susceptible to con artists' scams in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings because people are much less critical of where their money is going right now.

Beverly Baskin, president of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina, said she has received no calls about such scams since Sept. 11's incidents. But Baskin said she is certain some N.C. residents will fall victim to scams. "I'm worried about people who just want to give out of true generosity but end up giving to an unscrupulous individual," she said.

Baskin said people should look out for appeals that are long on emotion and short on information.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said he has has not heard of any scams in North Carolina but has heard reports of incidents in other places.

"Technology has created yet another tool for scam artists," Cooper said.

He said consumers should make themselves knowledgeable about who receives their money. "It's up to the consumer to protect their money," he said.

Baskin said consumers who want to give should pay attention to the facts of the solicitor, ask questions about where the money is going and ask for written correspondence.

She advised against writing checks to individuals and donating cash.

Cooper said people who think they have been the victim of fraud should contact the N.C. Attorney General's Office.

George Jeter, director of communications for the secretary of state, said a person caught collecting money fraudulently could face fines or imprisonment relative to the amount they collected.

"Scam artists are playing with fire. ... The police would just love to catch some of these people."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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