Use wisdom when getting involved in support groups

Encouragement and power from within sometimes dwindles or falters, causing people to look for support beyond themselves and their immediate circle of friends and family.

Getting together with like-minded individuals to help and care for each other sounds like a great idea, but that premise must be weighed with wisdom.

The Better Business Bureau has received reports of support groups — wisdom circles — in the Snake River region and urges individuals looking to connect with such groups to investigate their true intention. Some groups, especially those aimed at women, truly are supportive in nature, while others are highly persuasive with ulterior motives and greed.

It works like this: Women are “invited” or encouraged to join an exclusive circle of wisdom. The initial premise is unobtrusive, kind of like coming to a home sales party/show — houseware items, home-use products or scented candles. Sometimes you only buy because it’s a friend and you feel the pressure to buy.

The women’s group invites others to join, but requires that a gift of up to $5,000 be made to a woman who is in a “receiver position” in the circle. This gift is considered a show of support of the circle, and as a willingness or commitment to invite others into the circle of wisdom. Longevity within the circle moves the invitee into a “receiver position” and the promised recipient of thousands of dollars.

According to a woman from a circle in another area, a recent gift helped a struggling woman pay for new brakes and tires on her car.

Those involved say they don’t recruit, but simply issue an invitation. They say they don’t ask for a fee; they ask for a gift and expect nothing in return. That is the why they say it is perfectly legal.

Before you join a wisdom circle:

• Talk to group members. Are they satisfied? Have they experienced any problems?

• Interview the founder or group moderator. Are they friendly and helpful? Ask about qualifications, certification and education. How did they get involved?

• Review any contract or materials. Walk away from groups that pressure you to sign on the spot. Is everything that was promised in the contract? Is there a monthly fee and what’s extra? What about a gift? What’s the total cost and payment schedule, including enrollment fees and finance charges?

• Membership details. How long do you have to be a circle member? Can you go month-to-month? Is it required to attend a percentage of meetings?

• Cancellation or withdrawal policy. What are your cancellation rights if you move, have a life-changing incident, are injured or the wisdom group folds? Will the unused portion of your gift be refunded? Those details should be in the contract.

Remember, the BBB has a directory of not-for-profit or nonprofit organizations available for public review.