OLYMPIA -Sept. 12, 2001- The Washington state Attorney General's Office is warning consumers to be on the watch for people who may try to take advantage of them in this time of national tragedy.
Following other tragedies, con artists have attempted to take advantage of the public's good will, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. Often, she said, scams take the form of phony charities seeking donations, or unscrupulous merchants who unnecessarily raise the prices of essential goods.
"Incomprehensible as it may seem, there are people who will seize upon this tragedy to line their own pockets," she explained.
Gregoire said Washington residents must use care if approached by charities seeking donations - particularly charities they've never heard of. She recommends people give only to those charities they are familiar with, or to thoroughly check out charitable solicitations before giving.
"I am sure Americans will rally together to help worthy charities, we just want to make sure they put their money behind legitimate groups."
Consumers should be aware of certain warning signs before giving.
- Don't be fooled by a name. Some charities, including for-profit companies, have sympathetic sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate charities.
- Don't fall for a "sob story." The hard luck tale is a favorite ploy of the phony operator. A legitimate charity will tell you how it is using your money to make a difference for the better.
- Don't give in to pressure. Tell the solicitor you want to take time to make your decision.
- Don't pay with cash. Pay by check and make it out to the charity (using its full name, not initials) not to the fundraiser. Never give your credit card number to a fundraiser over the phone. If the fundraiser comes to your door, always ask for identification. Alternatively, you can mail your check directly to the charity.
Gregoire also warned people to be wary of charities that offer to send a courier over immediately to collect your money.
For information on charities, call the Secretary of State's Charity Hotline at 1-800-332-GIVE (1-800-322-4483.)
On another front, Gregoire said there have been reports in some states of gas stations charging $5 or more per gallon for gas. State Attorneys General have been told by the American Petroleum Institute that there is no reason for this increase.
Gregoire said Attorneys General are taking legal action to stop the excessive price increases. Here in Washington, she has directed her Consumer Protection Division to watch for unusually high prices and take appropriate action.
So far, there have been only isolated, unconfirmed reports of gasoline price gouging.