From The Tribune Staff Reports
MONTGOMERY — Attorney General Steve Marshall joins state charities regulators and the Federal Trade Commission to observe International Charity Fraud Awareness Week from October 18 to 22. This is a coordinated campaign to help charities and consumers avoid charity fraud and to promote wise giving. Consumers may follow events and information at #StopCharityFraud.
“The people of Alabama are compassionate and generous toward those in need, and our hearts go out to those who are suffering,” Marshall said. “But we must not let scam artists exploit this good nature and concern, keeping money from reaching those who are truly in need. We hope that consumers and businesses who are asked to give will use the resources we are providing this week to give carefully, wisely, and safely so that their donations may reach legitimate charities who will use these funds responsibly.”
Resources for Consumers
Attorney General Marshall reminds consumers that when they donate, it is important to take steps to make sure their money goes to a charity that helps make a difference. Many reputable charities are deserving of support. Consumers may find tips to assist in finding reputable organizations and for wise giving at www.ftc.gov/charity. Attorney General Marshall recommends that consumers take the following precautions:
Do your research
- Search the charity’s name online with words like “complaint” and “scam.”
- You may search for charities registered in Alabama here.
- Check out the charity’s ratings with groups like the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Guidestar.
- Use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if your donation is tax-deductible.
- Information may be on file with the Secretary of State’s Office in the charity’s state.
- What are the charity’s website, address, and mission?
- What percentage of your donation will go directly to services rather than fundraising?
- How much of your donation will be used for the specific programs you want to support?
- If supporting services in your own community is important to you, ask how the charity spends money in your area.
Be careful how you pay
- If someone asks you to send them cash, wire money, donate by gift card, or leave money under your front door mat for pick-up, don’t do it! That’s how scammers often ask you to pay. It’s safer to pay by credit card or check.
- If you’re donating online, check that the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” in the web address. That means your information is transmitted securely.
- Avoid cash donations, if possible. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Legitimate charities will give you a receipt that shows the amount of your donation. Keep that record and check your credit card statements to make sure you’re only charged for the donation you wanted to make and that you are not signed up to make an unintended recurring donation.
Watch out for scammers’ tricks
- Scammers spoof caller ID to make their fundraising calls look like they’re from your local area code, a Washington, D.C., area code, or from an organization you know.
- Don’t let anyone rush you. Both the need for donations and the opportunity for giving will still be in effect for some time. Reputable charities do not use coercive tactics.
- Scammers pressure you into donating immediately before you have time to do any research. A legitimate charity will welcome your donation at any time.
- Scammers claim that you’ll win a sweepstakes or get a prize if you donate, which is against the law.
- Scammers will thank you for a donation you don’t remember making. Scammers do that to trick you into thinking you actually pledged and to guilt you into sending money.
- Some scammers use names that closely resemble the names of real charities; research to make sure it is who you think it is.
- Don’t fall for vague and sentimental appeals that don’t give specifics about how your donation will be used.
What about donation requests through social media and crowdfunding sites?
Attorney General Marshall advises consumers to be mindful that, while many requests for donations through social media and crowdfunding sites are legitimate, some are scams. For example, some people misuse real pictures and stories to get you to donate, but the money goes into their own pockets. Crowdfunding sites may have little control over who uses them and how donations are spent. Research before you give. Also, if tax deductions are important to you, remember that donations to individuals are not tax-deductible.
The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you actually know who contact you about a specific project. Don’t assume that solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate – even when they are shared or liked by your friends. Do your own research. Call or contact your friends offline and ask them about the post they shared.
Read Donating Through Crowdfunding, Social Media, and Fundraising Platforms for more information.
Advice for Businesses
Attorney General Marshall said it is also important for businesses to be careful when approaching charitable contributions. It is important that these donations go to reputable non-profits and that businesses avoid inadvertently associating their companies with a questionable fundraising campaign. The FTC provides these tips at Tips for Retailers: How to Review Charity Requests. Attorney General Marshall notes that when companies lend their names to charities through a sponsorship or by allowing fundraising on their property, their own reputations are on the line. Customers and community members may interpret that as a “stamp of approval” and feel safe to donate to the cause being championed by a business. He advises that before lending a business’s name to a charity or allowing solicitations on the premises, the business should find out more about the charity making this request.
Consumers and businesses with questions or concerns may contact Attorney General Marshall’s Consumer Interest Division by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658, by writing to 501 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36130, or through the Attorney General’s web page at https://www.AlabamaAg.gov/consumercomplaint. Scams may also be reported to https://www.ftc.gov/complaint.