Donation jars should be closely inspected before giving

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Aug. 10, 2017 at 4:45 p.m.
Updated Aug. 11, 2017 at 6 a.m.

At least twice in the past year, someone in our area has placed donation jars at restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations to collect money from customers to benefit a family who has endured a recent tragic death.

The problem, however, is the family never received any of that money.

Instead, the stranger likely kept the donations and spent it.

Such a scam is offensive beyond description.

"There are people who are looking at today's news and making it tomorrow's scam," said Kelly Trevino, regional director with the Better Business Bureau. "It's sad, but it's true."

Most recently, three young men died July 13 in an awful crash on U.S. 87 near Wood Hi Road.

About two weeks later, Victoria resident Cynthia Cantu, the mother of one of the victims, Joe Ricky Barbontin Jr., 18, said the jars show up in public areas with photos of her son and another victim.

Cantu said she learned about the effort through friends. She had no prior knowledge about the collection effort, and she never received any money from those jars. Someone using Barbontin's name and image to scam the public angered Cantu, who is now caring for her son's three children.

The same unconscionable scenario unfolded in late September after the death of 11-year-old Bloomington youth Kevin Garza, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver. His relatives learned about donation jars, but the family received nothing from them.

Such scams play off the emotions of the customer and the business owner, and they ultimately hurt the survivors of someone who died.

Trevino said the best way to help a grieving family is to donate to them directly or through a secure donation method such as an established bank account or trustworthy website.

Anyone giving money through a donation jar displayed in a public business needs to question that business owner or manager about how they know the money collected is going to the intended recipient.

Trevino said members of the caring public need to invest some research time to confirm the integrity of the donation jar.

"Most people have a caring heart, and they want to help," she said, but it's easy to be duped by a donation jar scam.

There are three general steps in a scam, Trevino said.

First is the connection - which is the knock on the door or a phone call or the false donation jar placed in plain sight.

Second is the credibility factor. The tragedy has been in the paper, so the public knows it really occurred. A picture of the victim - from the newspaper or the victim's Facebook page - is printed and displayed on the jar. Trevino said the fact that a business owner is willing to display the jar makes him or her an unknowing accessory if nothing is done to screen the person organizing the collection.

Third is the reward - that good feeling that comes when money is dropped into the jar.

Instead, the public needs to reach the family directly through the newspaper or a family relative.

And when a scam is detected, it behooves the public to report it on the Better Business Bureau's website at bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

The website allows BBB officials to investigate the scam and then list it for the public. There are about 78,000 reported scams in the U.S., and the website lists and describes about 20 ongoing scams in the Crossroads.

There are many legitimate efforts to raise money for specific causes and families in need throughout the Crossroads. We encourage the public to donate to those causes.

At the same time, we want generous donors to take steps to make sure their money is going where it is supposed to go.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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