Thursday, September 2, 2010

Advocates Against Fraud in Advocacy

I'm writing this because I want you to know about AAFA and my position with them. I like to be clear and provide information where I can for all who may just want to know.

First of all, what is AAFA? Well, you can see the website and explanation HERE.

If you read the explanation on the page, it's pretty straightforward. The idea is to try to help protect families from being taken advantage of. Families desperate to help their kids get scammed by people claiming to be advocates. It's a devastating blow to an already bleak situation. The family winds up losing money and they have nothing to show for it except financial damages on top of the situation with their child or family member in need of support. Our goal is to create a place you can go to, to ask about that advocate and have extra eyes and thoughts on what you should do.

At this point, it's important to point out that (while I have law enforcement background), we are NOT law enforcement. We are not going to arrest or convict anyone. If we see that a crime may be in process, we report to the proper authorities, just like anyone should.

I have seen some questions come up about AAFA and I'd like to answer them here.

Are we qualified?: All of us have background and ability in researching. The important thing to know here is that the information we research is already public information. Anyone can look it up, but most don't know how. There are no legal qualifications, diplomas or licenses required to look up public information. We do what anyone should do before giving money to anyone. Best of all, we don't charge any fees.

Who do we go after?: First of all, that's not a very good term. We investigate and research. We don't just do that on anyone who comes along. The idea is that you can come to us with questions about an advocate who's asking you for money and we can research that advocate. We don't "go after" people because we "don't like them". We do research because of concerns brought to us by people like you. Then we report on what we find and all of what we find. That way you can see everything in the exact context we find it in.

What do we look for?: News reports, wild claims that turn out to be false, public accessed legal documentation. We basically look to see that the person is who and what they claim they are. We look for up to date and current information that will help you decide if you should give this person your hard earned money. Examples:

-Current criminal history: if the person just got out of prison last week from embezzlement charges or currently faces charges, you should know it.

-Claims of Grandeur: To inspire confidence some may make brash claims about themselves that aren't true. Some can be verified easily (and when they can't it's a red flag). Such as claiming to be an official NASCAR race car driver or DC Lobbyist. DC Lobbyists are all registered on a public access list. We had someone make this claim but couldn't be found on ANY list.

-Multiple Reports of Concern: How many people come forward on their experiences is important to note. If 10s to 20s to even 100s of people are saying they've been scammed by this person, you shouldn't give them your money.

-And how does this person react to us?: If they react by stalking and smearing measures, it says we're on the right track. We'll report on those as well. We've had some of these measures include attacking our religious beliefs, disability status, or education. We've even had web pages dedicated to us in obscene fashion. Does attacking any of that sound like an advocate to you?

In the past I've reported on my personal experiences with people who call themselves everything from and advocate to an organization. Because these people openly ask for donations or fees, reporting on them and experiences with them is little different than sharing experiences with any business. You know, like writing a business review. Let's say you're looking for a mechanic to fix your car. In looking around, you find one but you're pretty savvy and look for reviews. You find out that he's been in the news for being sued a few times and has lots of complaints against his work. Are you going to him? I doubt it. And everyone who had the experience has every right to report on it. Now, if he starts stalking people who report on him and putting up posters about their personal lives (maybe stuff he dug up from 30 years ago in someone's grade school), AND tries to say that's the same thing as done with him... what do you think of him then? Yes, that means there are risks, but we take them, so you don't have to.

We are very open to questions about what we do and we certainly don't think of ourselves as higher or better than anyone else. We simply want to help protect families from scams and false advocacy. If you have any concerns or would like our help, contact us through the website at the link above.

And what's my position? I'm an adviser on the board for AAFA. I do help in the researching and some decision making processes.

You can see another blog from board member, Amy Caraballo HERE.

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