Fraudulent direct mass mailings menace consumers, hurt charities

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - Della Lee, 88, of Bellevue, rattles off the pitches from various organizations. 

There are veterans groups, serious diseases, and starving animals, “and there's hunger, a lot of hunger, and there's many of those, too."

She has the mail sorted in piles on her dining room table.

“From all parts of the country, concerning all charities,” she said. “I've never had this many letters in my life.”

It's a buffet of sorts: letters and pleas for money — 700 pieces and counting since December. 

"The dogs. Lot of dogs, sad looking dogs,” Lee said.

Even donkeys.

"They say, ‘I've sent you letters like that here, we need your call. We need your money,’ ” she said.

Jim Hegarty, head of the Better Business Bureau, said he’s not surprised by Lee’s deluge of mail from supposed charity groups urging her to donate.

"It's ferocious,” he said. “I am not surprised by somebody getting that volume of mail."

It’s why the BBB has an entire division devoted to shady organizations, Hegarty said. 

“It's a sucker list, used by every imaginable kind of undesirable character that is out there running some kind of scheme," he said.

Scammers, likely outside the United States, have Lee's name and contact information — and know she's generous.

Lee listed the many causes she and her husband gave to in 2017 — dozens and dozens of contributions, totaling more than $6,000. 

"It’s the problematic contributions that she's made, or the responses provided to charities that aren't playing by the rules that are sharing her contact information," Hegarty said.

Lee said the barrage of so-called junk mail has soured her a bit on giving, and has made her think twice about pulling out her checkbook. She worries that legitimate charities will suffer if other people are experiencing the same nuisance.

"It really does affect the local nonprofits,” said Candace Gregory, president and CEO of the Open Door Mission.

Gregory said her reputable organization sends out one newsletter and one direct appeal for donations per month. She knows she’s vying for dollars among a sea of organizations — and the phone ones make it even tougher.

“I think we get lost in the mailbox because there's so much mail,” she said.

There are ways to stop the mass mailings.

  • Check the organization out on give.org. It has a list of solid organizations that follow a specific checklist of charitable accountability standards.
  • Direct Marketing Association: Sign up at DMAchoice.org to have your name removed from mailing lists.
  • Talk to the U.S. Postal Service and let them know what’s constantly coming in the mail. They may be able to cut through some of the mass mailings.

Lee said it’s worth a try “so we can stop some of this greed."

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