Albert Meyer, an accounting professor at an obscure Michigan college, might as well have been talking to himself when he warned officials of the school that he believed a Philadelphia charity was not on the up and up.

For two years, he tried to convince the officials at Spring Arbor College that the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy -- which the school had given $250,000 after New Era promised to match those funds -- was not what it seemed.

New Era was not registered as a foundation, had never been audited, had no endowment and operated like a classic Ponzi scheme, Meyer warned them.

Nobody would listen. Not the president of the college, not the vice president for development, not the trustees or the faculty of the business school.

This week, the Philadelphia charity filed for bankruptcy, listing liabilities of more than $550 million to major universities, art centers and research centers and assets of $60 million. It is under investigation by state and federal authorities.

Now, Meyer's colleagues -- and others -- are paying attention.

"The lesson is that charities must submit themselves to an audit," Meyer said in a telephone interview from his home yesterday. Then organizations such as New Era, which originally said its funds came from 125 anonymous wealthy donors who now, it seems, don't exist, would have to say where their money came from and what was backing it up. There are more than 1 million private charities in the United States.

"I never dreamed of this," Meyer said of all the attention he was getting. At 1 p.m. yesterday, he still hadn't had breakfast. He was too busy fielding calls from television networks, newspapers and others who wanted to hear the story of a present-day Jeremiah.

In July 1993, when Spring Arbor College officials asked for a donation that would be matched "by a major foundation," Meyer asked which one. "I expected to hear the name Carnegie or Rockefeller," he said. "Instead, I heard Foundation for New Era Philanthropy."

"As an accountant, I just won't let my money go unless I think it's secure," said Meyer, a 44-year-old South African in this country with his wife and three children to teach in a tiny college town (population 2,010) halfway between Battle Creek and Ann Arbor.

New Era, he found from dogged research, was not registered as a foundation but as a tax-exempt charity.

Meyer got its 1993 financial statements and tax statements. He also got a packet of information from New Era, whose motto is: "Giving That Makes a World of Difference." But he couldn't get New Era to answer many of his questions.

Then, Spring Arbor College got a check from New Era for $500,000 -- its $250,000, plus matching funds that the charity had promised from anonymous donors.

"They made a point of waving the check at me," Meyer said of college officials.

Meyer wouldn't give up. In March 1994, he sent a letter to the college's board of trustees saying he thought this was a Ponzi scheme -- in which the money of new investors is used to pay off old investors.

"I just reasoned that, logically, you can't raise $40 million {the amount New Era said it was giving away} overnight. That's more than Jimmy Carter raised for Habitat for Humanity or Bruce Springsteen for Band Aid," Meyer said. "I just didn't believe this insignificant guy Bennett {New Era President John G. Bennett Jr.} could raise it."

But officials still didn't listen. They sent more money to New Era in December. Meyer declined to say how much the college sent, and Neil Veydt, Spring Arbor's vice president for planning and advancement, declined to talk to a reporter.

College officials told Meyer that he was going to endanger their ability to get matching grants if he kept asking so many questions about New Era. The private liberal arts college, associated with the Free Methodists, also relied heavily on the fact that Bennett had close ties to conservative Christian organizations.

Finally, Meyer decided that if his own associates wouldn't listen, he'd call in the government. He wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the Pennsylvania attorney general's office -- and heard from all three.

"It turned out wonderfully, far better than I expected," Meyer said of his efforts to stop New Era.

There were phone calls from important people. Officials of a "reputable British charity," which Meyer declined to name, called to say they had sent $514,000 to New Era on Saturday, but stopped payment on the check after reading reports from the press -- first alerted by Meyer -- that raised questions about the charity. Officials of a Delaware organization, which told Meyer it sent $1 million and also stopped payment, called to say thanks.

Though Meyer's overnight fame may not last, his contract at Spring Arbor College recently was renewed for another three years.

And yes, the president of the Spring Arbor College, M. Allen Carden, who did not return telephone calls from a reporter for two days, did call Meyer. " You were right all along. We should have listened to you,' " Meyer recited. CAPTION: ALBERT MEYER