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Liz Mulligan: From With A Little Help to Fighting Elder Fraud

Liz Mulligan

Liz Mulligan

Liz Mulligan first witnessed elder fraud while working with a client of With A Little Help. Since tracking down over $200,000 stolen by the client’s bookkeeper she’s gone on to establish a full time fraud fighting business: Fraud Resolution for seniors, LLC. “I was so gratified to help someone straighten out finances,” she said reflecting on that first experience. Liz sat down with us to talk about the most frequent fraud problem she sees and to share thoughts on how to protect the elders in your life from financial harm.

Charitable holidays bring out our urge to help. Sensational fraud cases make headline news but the dishonest nickel and dime charities that appeal to our giving spirit are the most frequent fraud problem facing elders. Many elders or casual donors don’t track these small contributions nor do they research the charities they benefit and that’s what small time fraudulent operators count on! “One year a client donated $9,000 in $10 and $15 dollar donations,” Mulligan recalled. 

There are several ways fraud occurs. “Even the ‘good charities’ sell your donor information to donor lists,” Mulligan said. That leads to multiple unwanted direct mail appeals some of which are, potentially, fraudulent charity offers.  In addition, small charities often employ professional fundraisers who take variable cuts from your contribution. Mulligan pointed to a professional fundraising company, Outreach Calling, averaging a cut of 90% from every contribution! Like most fraudulent charities Outreach Calling fundraises by telephone. “If I ruled the world,” Mulligan stated, “I’d make it illegal to raise dollars over the phone. Most of these calls are questionable. I urge clients not to donate by phone.”

Scamming charities employ common tactics. Some allege a previous charitable relationship or a pledge you made which you can’t remember. If you don’t remember, don’t act.  If an appeal turns aggressive, turn the other way. Most scams create names similar to legitimate charities. For example the scam charities Breast Cancer Relief Foundation or Breast Cancer Resource Center sound a lot like the legitimate charity Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “Some of the worst charities I see are the badge charities,” Mulligan explained. “They claim that a pledge was made that they haven’t received. The Disabled Fire Fighters Fund, a disreputable company in Vancouver, was finally shut down. Only 5% of funds were going to help firefighters.” Sadly too many charities with names that play on our emotion also prey on our wallets.

Small charitable donations are the foundation of many services. Protect your charitable contribution and your charitable spirit from fraud by observing a few safeguards:

  • Tell charities you support not to share your personal information. Many will honor your request thereby minimizing your exposure to scams. If that doesn’t work try further steps suggested by Charity Navigator.
  • Turn away from fundraising pressure or claims that you don’t remember.
  • Don’t give your credit card number to a telephone fundraiser. If you’re approached by phone ask for written information and send your charity a personal check. This allows time to research the charity and ensures that the charity itself receives your full contribution not the professional fundraiser.
  • Small contributions add up to significant support. Research your charity to ensure that donations are making change. How much does the charity channel to the service it supports? Charity Navigator evaluates the giving activity of over 8,000 charities. Does the charity employ a fundraising professional?  “Every charity and commercial fundraiser soliciting donations in our state must file an annual report with the Office of the Secretary of State. The information goes into a searchable database so the public can find out what donation percentage is used to support programs and the percentage fundraisers return to the charity,” Mulligan explained. “You can also get this information by calling 1-800-332-GIVE.”

Mulligan sums up her work by saying, “In addition to helping Fraud Resolution for Seniors clients, I have been volunteering in the AARP Fraudfighter program since it began in 2006. I’ve also done several projects for agencies that protect seniors from financial exploitation. It is truly my passion…and it all started at With A Little Help.”

 

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