Tuesday, October 22

Some solicitors breed mistrust

Representatives from some Bruin Walk solicitors are using dubious tactics to get money from students, and the tactics are corroding students’ trust in the charitable process.

While there are a number of legitimate, well-intentioned charity groups on campus, students say their faith in these organizations is undermined by the handful of individuals who fail or refuse to tender concrete credentials.

Kenn Heller, the associate director of UCLA’s Center for Student Programming, said that only one or two instances of improper solicitation have been exposed in the past few years at UCLA.

Despite the scarcity of known improprieties in the past, however, Heller warned that more people could be escaping the university’s notice.

To provide transparency, he said, people acting on behalf of charities are required to carry permits that are issued by the City of Los Angeles Police Commission.

The permit, which is known as an information card, includes the name and address of the charity, the dates and times when they are permitted to solicit, past collection information, the purpose of the solicitation, and the date the card was issued.

Representatives are required to have the card on their person at all times and to display it on request.

They also have to register with the police department before fundraising and have to subsequently give periodic reports about their collections. By California law, noncompliance is punishable by injunctions, fines or even imprisonment if the statutes are repeatedly violated.

Though it cannot confirm any instances of illegal solicitation, the Daily Bruin has found a number of people on Bruin Walk not carrying the required identification.

When a Bruin reporter recently asked a representative from Exodus Humanity to produce his card, the solicitor said he didn’t know he had to have one. When asked for his organization’s phone number, the solicitor provided a number for what turned out to be a Sunset Boulevard outlet of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

Another solicitor collecting under the auspices of a charity gave a phone number that turned out to be for a local construction company.

Students have had similar experiences.

Elan Enriquez, a third-year English student, said she has recently been approached and hounded on many occasions by people asking for money on Bruin Walk and elsewhere.

“They come up to me every day, sometimes several times a day. And few of them are credible,” she said.

Because of their experiences, students like Enriquez say they worry their money might not be going to charities at all and rather to the collectors themselves.

“Most of these people just don’t produce any convincing evidence,” she said.

Many students say they are perturbed by the audacity of some solicitors.

“It can get really bothersome when someone approaches you and tries to guilt you into donating,” said Michael Dennin, a first-year bioengineering student.

Because scams are so varied, consumer advocates say it is impossible to keep accurate statistics on charity fraud, but it is certainly becoming universally more prevalent.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the number of people impersonating charities or unlawfully using the name of a charity has increased dramatically, especially since September 11.

To prevent it from happening at UCLA, Heller said, students “should always look carefully for identification before giving money to anyone over the mail or in person.”

To address these problems, the FTC has compiled a list of classic scam behaviors on its Web site to educate people on the potential dangers of careless gifting.

Among their points, they say phony solicitors frequently use base emotional appeals and guilt trips to coerce donations from reluctant donors. Statements that sound overly expressive or poignant are immediate red flags as well, according to the Web site.

Solicitors have also been known to use bogus names that closely resemble the names of reputable organizations or use vague descriptions of their programs to give the false impression that they are tax-exempt.

To avoid falling victim to charity fraud, the FTC also lists a number of Web sites ““ such as GuideStar ““ that provide information about thousands of genuine charities.

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