Avoid falling victim to a charity scam

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Next time you get a phone call from a charity or a company claiming you owe them money, do some research first.  

"I had the proof and they knew it," Janet Leimenstoll said.

Leimenstoll is serious and determined about not being a victim of scam artists.

"I had purchased years ago some products through the Handicapped Workers and I hadn't bought anything from them in years and years," she explained.

Out of the blue - Leimenstoll got a call - from someone who said they were from that charity - saying she owed them money.

Leimenstoll explained, "I argued with him for a little while, and he said... It's going to collections today if you don't pay today."

Leimenstoll knew she didn't owe any money, but she did feel pressured.

"They threaten you with sending you to court and they say it will cost you thousands in court fees so you start hearing thousands of dollars," she said.

"People were told 'you owe this money' we are going to send it to a collection agency...and your credit will be ruined," explained US Postal Inspector Kim Gordon.

So, Leimenstoll paid them $150.00 - three times the cost of the original purchase because of late fees and fines.

"I was truly furious when I realized they were scamming me and I didn't quite know what to do," she said.

She decided to do some investigating about the date she was told she bought the item. She ordered her phone records for the day.

"They sent me the whole month from that year and I had no incoming or outgoing calls on that day," said Leimenstoll.

Once she confirmed she never purchased any items, she called the company to get a refund.

"The lady was very mad," explained Leimenstoll.  "I said I have proof that I didn't buy this, because I don't have a call coming in or out that day, I have my phone records."

She got a full refund but not everyone was so lucky. Postal Inspectors say 150 to 200 victims lost tens of thousands of dollars.

"If someone calls you asking you to donate to a cause, have them send you some information through the mail so you can check it out," said Gordon.

Inspectors also have this advice:

"Never be pressured to make this decision on the phone right now, any reputable company would be happy to send you information and take your time," warned Gordon.

Postal inspectors were tipped off to the case after almost 400 complaints were filed against the company.  

If you think you're a victim of a scam and need to file a complaint with U.S. Postal Inspectors, go to postalinspectors.uspis.gov or you can call 1-877-876-2455.

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