WILKES-BARRE — The holidays inspire selflessness and charitable giving in many individuals, but unscrupulous scam artists may view that generosity as an opportunity to line their own pockets.
As part of Holiday Scam Protection Week, the Department of Banking and Securities is joining the Department of State to advise consumers to look out for signs of scams during the holidays and to use safe giving strategies to ensure their gifts are going to the charity they intend.
“Charity scams occur all year long, but unfortunately criminals may be more active during the holiday season when they know you are eager to share with those in need,” Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann said in an emailed news release. “Being well-informed about this and other scams that see an uptick near the holidays can help prevent you from losing your hard-earned money and allow you to instead focus on what is truly important during this time of year.”
How the scams work:
• Fake charities often use names similar to those of well-known organizations (for example: Six Golden Rings Relief Fund vs. Five Golden Rings Relief Fund).
• Victims may be contacted directly by email (something real charities only do with existing stakeholders), phone, or by a “volunteer” going door-to-door.
• Charity scams can also be vehicles for identity theft by directing victims to bogus websites where they provide personal and financial information along with their “donation.”
Tips to prevent charity Grinches from stealing your giving spirit (and money):
• Ignore email or text solicitations for donations from unknown organizations: they are almost always scams.
• Never give cash or write out a check to an individual solicitor. When writing a check, make it payable to the organization or pay via credit card.
• Never feel pressured to make a donation on the spot before doing your homework.
• Research an organization before making a donation.
• Check with the Internal Revenue Service to make sure the organization asking you for money is registered as a 501(c) corporation, which means your donation is tax deductible.
• Contact the Pennsylvania Department of State to verify that the charity asking you for money is legally registered. The charities online database makes readily available basic financial information about the expenses for program services, fundraising and management for all registered organizations.
• Verify claims of someone soliciting donations and do not hesitate to ask questions, such as the purpose of the organization and how your donation will be used.
• If a charity claims to be helping a local organization such as a police or fire department, check with that organization to see if they are indeed fundraising and using that organization.
• Check website addresses carefully since scammers often will create websites and names that are very similar to legitimate, reputable organizations (for example, 12drummers.com vs. 12drumers.com). Check the spelling of the organization’s name and the URL very closely for discrepancies.
Gov. Wolf announces additional
standardized testing reductions
Gov. Tom Wolf this week joined parents, teachers and school administrators to announce more improvements to standardized testing in Pennsylvania.
After reducing the number of test days by two days this school year, starting next school year, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) will be condensed from three weeks to two weeks and shifted to later in the school year, easing stress on students and giving them up to two additional weeks to learn before taking the assessment.
The new schedule builds on changes taking effect this school year to remove two sections of the PSSA — one in math and one in English language arts — and reduce questions in the science assessment, which is enabling the Department of Education to condense and move the testing window to later in the year.
“We are continuing to respond to the concerns of students, parents and teachers about the amount of classroom time spent on standardized tests,” Wolf said in an emailed news release. “After reducing the classroom time devoted to the PSSA and moving the test window to later in the school year, students and teachers will have more classroom time to focus on learning before taking the test.”
This year, the PSSA exams will take place during a three-week testing window which will begin April 9. Removing two sections of the assessment reduced the amount of classroom time by an average of two days in most schools, enabling the department to shorten the test window to two weeks and provide school districts the flexibility to begin the assessment as late as April 25 in future years. Since school districts have already established their school calendar, the new testing window will begin with the 2018-19 school year.
The department identified the PSSA changes during discussions with stakeholders for nearly two years when developing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan. The plan is a federal requirement to replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
Over the past three years Pennsylvania has:
• Provided historic funding for education to reverse devastating cuts of the past with $800 million for educational programs and to bring teachers back to the classroom.
• Doubled early childhood education access to provide nearly 8,800 more children access to Pre-K and Head Start programs to get a good start to their education.
• Increased graduation rates to among the highest in the nation for four-year cohorts from 85.5 percent in 2013-14 to 86.1 percent in 2015-16.
• Become a leader in STEM education with five nationally-recognized STEM ecosystems and 31 percent more students earning industry-recognized credentials as well as ranking fourth in the number of STEM graduates and in the top 10 of states for STEM jobs.
AG DePasquale ‘appalled’ at
state of child welfare system
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week presented testimony on Pennsylvania’s child-welfare system to members of the House Children and Youth Committee, and he told legislators he was “appalled” at his findings.
DePasquale told the panel that his department released an 80-page special report in September titled “State of the Child,” which evaluated how the commonwealth’s child-welfare system is functioning. He said as part of the year-long review, his team interviewed nearly 130 people involved with all levels of the child-welfare system, from state officials to county agency administrators to families who have been involved with the system.
“What I found was appalling,” DePasquale said in an emailed news release. “Pennsylvania spent nearly $2 billion in 2016 to protect children — and $1 billion of that came directly from state funds — yet 46 children died and 79 nearly died from abuse and neglect. What really concerned me was that nearly half of those children’s families were known to county CYS agencies. Pennsylvania’s child-welfare system is broken. This is not an exaggeration.”
Since the report’s release in September, DePasquale has visited county CYS agencies and talked with caseworkers, administrators, nonprofit leaders, district attorneys, coroners, county-level officials and more.
DePasquale said he has focused on learning how the opioid crisis is putting yet another strain on CYS caseworkers as they strive to keep Pennsylvania’s at-risk children safe.
“Without exception, caseworkers and others told me that the opioid crisis has dramatically increased caseloads and increasingly jeopardized child safety and well-being,” he said. “We cannot and should not ignore the opioid scourge as we work to improve the child-welfare system in Pennsylvania.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.