Tzedokah Scams – Better Beware

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While rip off artists infiltrate nearly every legitimate business and profession, and the buyer must always beware, the tzedokah industry is one of the most vulnerable of all. Because it can be very lucrative with few risks, it attracts frauds like bees to honey.

A recent report warned people to beware of telephone and mail solicitations made on behalf of firemen and policemen killed on the line of duty. The attorney general’s office warned that for the most part these collections were a fraud and the funds never reached their intended target.

Nobody knows how many millions of dollars a year are siphoned off by such con artists, whose scams continue unabated. The loss to legitimate worthy causes is astronomical.

Some of these operators are very shrewd and extremely dangerous. Even if someone exposes their names, they easily assume new aliases and change their postal box number. The scams never abate and in fact get progressively worse and bolder.

Distressingly, but not surprisingly, such dishonest operaters have taken to defrauding sincerely observant Jews, whose hearts go out to their fellow Jews in need.Here is a typical example of a recently uncovered tzedokah scam.

Mr. Fraud runs an ad in an Israeli newspaper promising to help any family that is in desperate need of medical help in America.

Mr. Naive, whose wife is unfortunately stricken with some terrible disease, sees the ad and believes that salvation is on the way. Mr. Fraud tells him that all he needs to do is secure letters from well known rabbonim and from doctors and hospitals testifying to the urgency and importance of the case, so that Mr. Fraud can use them to fund-raise on his behalf in the United States.

Equipped with these legitimate letters, Mr. Fraud visits well known gedolim in America, who add their own signatures and supporting letters to the heartrending appeal for Mrs. Naive.

Mr. Fraud, who has his own sophisticated computerized mailing system, now sends out a huge mailing on this person’s behalf. In addition he also takes out large ads in the local Jewish periodicals appealing for help on the behalf of the stricken Naive family. One can’t expect a newspaper to investigate the legitimacy of every ad!

Yidden, who are rachmonim bnei rachmonim, answer these desperate pleas with a great outpouring of funds. Yet when Mr. Naive finally comes to America with his sick wife for medical treatment , he is shocked to receive a mere few hundred dollars and told that the rest of the money went for office expenses etc. What a cruel hoax on both the giver and the receiver. The only one who profits-very handsomely- is Mr Fraud.

Can it be that we ourselves are at fault? After all, the Gemora in Bava Basra says that if someone is not worthy then Heaven sees to it that his money goes to useless places so that he doesn’t get the great mitzvah of tzedokah!

Obviously we must not stop giving tzedokah because of the many frauds. That would be like trying to stop breathing for fear of inhaling poison gas. Tzedokah tatzil mimaves. It saves one from death and is a most important lifeline!

Our answer therefore must be to not only check the legitimacy of the cause, but also carefully check out the legitimacy of the collector. There are plenty of good causes and honest collectors to whom to channel our hard earned tzedokah dollars. We have an obligation to seek them out just as we must search for a kosher esrog or kosher tefillin and mezuzos. It would be a great help if our community could set up something similar to the Better Business Bureau, where people could get information on these matters. I’m told that someone in Los Angeles is presently working on a computerized system that will provide this information. It is an extremely important public service.

It is because of such fraudulent collections that some of Israel’s most prominent rabbonim issued a proclamation that people should beware of sending tzedokah to post office boxes.A recent check of legitimate looking return addresses where found to be fronts for P.O. boxes for which one was unable to obtain the names of their owners.

Another brilliant scam that made the rounds recently went as follows.

There are specialized car service drivers that make a living driving around collectors. The typical driver knows the names and addresses of the potential contributors and for bringing the collecter to these people he charges from between 33% to 50% of the days total receipts. (I’ll let you guess at what he makes per day.)

This notorious scam went as follows: Mr. G. the car service driver told Rabbi B., a recently arrived meshulach, who was raising funds for his yeshivah in Israel that there is a very wealthy man in Flatbush who gives large donations for any good charitable cause. The driver would be glad to take him there on the condition that he receive 50% of the donation in cash. Rabbi B. was game. After all it was found money!

As they drove to the big contributer, Mr. G. explained that the wealthy man had had a bad experience recently. Someone had held him up and he was afraid to open the front door. Therefore, the meshulach would have to ring the bell and put his papers through the door slot. The contribution would be forthcoming, out of the same slot.

The meshulach did exactly as he was told-and sure enough, five minutes later out came a check for $1,000 ! Rabbi B. was elated at the size of the donation and happily gave the car service driver the $500 cash as they had agreed .

Two weeks later, Rabbi B. learned that the check was actually rubber- and he was out $500!

After this scam had victimized a number of people, it finally came to the attention of the Boro Park Shomrim under the direction of Hershel Rubenstien. They immediately did a thorough search around the neighborhood and quickly apprehended the car service driver. They applied the appropriate pressure (I’ll leave it to your imagination) and the money was soon repaid to the collector. While this particular story has a happy ending, thanks to the Shomrim, most of the time those who part with their money will never see it again.

While we certainly must increase our tzedokah dollars, we have an obligation to make sure that they reach the intended target!

Please note: Jewish Press policy does not allow me to give names in this article.