OLYMPIA -- Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna urge citizens to watch out for scam artists playing off legitimate charitable efforts following the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech.
"Following devastating tragedies such as this, scam artists often strike and mimic official charities that raise money for victims,” cautioned Reed. “Washingtonians are very generous - we just want to make sure citizens are careful who they give to.”
Shortly following the shootings at Virginia Tech, scammers began creating fraudulent charity websites. The Sans Internet Storm Center has warned that at least 25 new domain names have been registered. While some are legitimate organizations, others are likely to be fraudulent with hopes of collecting on the heels of a tragic situation. To date, no charity scams on this issue have surfaced in Washington. People need to be extra cautious with telephone and Internet solicitations, especially from unfamiliar groups.
“Be wary of requests for donations that play on your emotions, but fail to adequately describe what the charity will do to address the needs of victims and their families,” McKenna said. “Solicitors who are reluctant to provide details, pressure you for an immediate decision or decline to provide written information likely are not legitimate.”
Under the state's Charitable Solicitation Act, most organizations and individuals who solicit charitable donations must register with the Secretary of State and disclose general and certain financial information. Consumers should ask several key questions and verify the information before they write out a check.
Some questions include:
- Is the charity registered with the state of Washington?
- What is the name, address and telephone number of the organization asking for the donation?
- Exactly how will the donation be used?
- What percentage of the contribution will be spent on the charitable purpose of the organization?
Consumers can check whether a charity is registered by calling the Secretary of State's toll free Charities Information Hotline at 1-800-332-4483. The Secretary of State's website www.secstate.wa.gov/charities offers an online lookup of charities registrations, tips, and statutes governing charitable solicitations.
If you contribute, do not give cash. Make a check or money order out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation. Consumers also should not give a credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor.
Enforcement on this issue is handled by the Washington Attorney General.
“Fundraisers that seek to deceive consumers or dodge state regulations should know that government is watching and we will take enforcement,” McKenna said.
Anyone who witnesses something suspicious regarding a charitable donation should contact the Attorney General's Office at 1-800-551-4636 or online at www.atg.wa.gov
Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Attorney General's Office, (206) 464-6432
Joanie Deutsch, Office of the Secretary of State, (360) 902-4173