“There are many worthwhile causes to support, but unfortunately, there are also some con artists who take advantage of the generosity of others,” DeWine said. “We want to help people ensure that their donations go to the right place.”
Charities throughout the country use the last month of the year to seek support from donors. At the same time, scammers also compete for these contributions. Con artists may pose as reputable charity representatives and collect donations by phone, online, or outside stores. They may claim to support a charitable cause but ultimately keep the money for themselves.
Signs of a potential charity scam include:
• High-pressure tactics.
• No details about how your donation will be used.
• Refusal to provide written information about the charity.
• Organizations with names similar to those of other, better-known organizations.
• Requests for donations made payable to a person instead of a charity.
• Offers to pick up donations immediately versus in the mail or online.
• Requests for payment via wire transfer or gift card.
To help detect and avoid potential charity scams, donors should:
Carefully review donation requests. Don’t assume that charity recommendations have been vetted, even if they’re posted or shared by your friends. Check them independently. The first request you find may not be the best.
Develop a giving plan. Determine which charities you want to support, and then respond to unexpected or unwanted requests by explaining that you already have a giving plan in place. Invite other groups to provide you with written information so you can evaluate their requests.
Research charities. Find out if an organization is registered with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, verify its tax-exempt status with the IRS, and gather data from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, and Charity Navigator. View the organization’s IRS Form 990 on Guidestar. Review program descriptions, expenses, compensation levels, and other details. Conduct a basic internet search to review a group’s accomplishments or questionable activity.
Ask how your donation will be used. Keep in mind that some charitable giving requests come from professional solicitors who are paid to collect donations. Solicitors should identify themselves, and if you ask, tell you what percentage of your donation will go to the charity. Also contact charities directly to find out how they use donations. Get information in writing. Compare a charity’s materials with information you gather from other sources.
Don’t rely solely on an organization’s name. Some con artists misuse the names of real charities or use other, real-sounding names in order to confuse donors. If you receive a message from an organization asking for a donation, confirm that the request truly is from the organization, and not an impostor, by contacting the organization directly or visiting its website. Don’t assume a cause is legitimate just because of its name. Also be wary of sharing financial information, such as your credit card number, over the phone to someone who contacts you unexpectedly.
Check out crowdfunding campaigns before donating. If you want to make a contribution using a crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising site, find out how your donation will be used before donating. Try to determine which campaigns are legitimate and which haven’t been vetted. (Some people ask for donations for a cause but ultimately keep the money for themselves.) Also consider how much of your donation will go to the website itself or whether you will be charged any fees for making the donation.
Businesses also may be asked to support charitable causes during the holiday season, and to help protect businesses and their customers from charity donation scams, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office provides “A Charity Guide for Businesses,” which encourages businesses to evaluate charitable solicitation requests, such as requests to set up a donation table outside a store. The guide includes a sample approval form businesses can use in their vetting process.
Those who suspect a charity scam or questionable charitable activity should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigates and takes enforcement action against charitable fraud.