SEATTLE – Attorney General Rob McKenna today encouraged Washington residents to support local charities, but also cautioned them to check into exactly where their contributions are going before making a donation.
“Charitable organizations need our support,” McKenna said. “Unfortunately, the holidays present opportunities for crooks to prey on your generosity. Do your research and give to those organizations you know and trust.
“Be on the lookout for frauds whose real goal is to pocket your donation or con you out of personal information they can later use to pilfer your bank account,” McKenna cautioned. “Solicitors who are reluctant to provide details, pressure you for an immediate decision or decline to provide written information are probably not legitimate.
“In addition, there are some Grinch-like fundraisers who keep the bulk of your donation for themselves,” he said. “Find out how much of your money goes to the actual charity before you give.”
McKenna offered these tips to avoid scams and help ensure your charitable donations are put to use as you intended:
1. Give to familiar organizations.
- Be wary of solicitations from unfamiliar organizations, particularly those made by telephone, e-mail or on the street.
- Carefully consider the charity’s name. Some use names that sound impressive or closely resemble those of well-known, respected organizations.
- Ask for identification if a fundraiser comes to the door.
2. Ask questions.
- Ask if the solicitor is a charity volunteer or a paid commercial fundraiser.
- Inquire about exactly how the money will be used and the amount retained by the charity. Ask for written information.
- Confirm the name, address, and phone number of the organization seeking the donation.
3. Confirm that a charity is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.
4. Find out exactly how the money will be used.
- Ask for a written financial report. The Secretary of State’s Office publishes an annual report on commercial fundraisers that reveals the percentage of donations they return to their charity clients. It is available online at www.secstate.wa.gov/charities. A good benchmark is to select organizations that give at least 70 percent of the money to charity.
5. Pay by check.
- Never give cash. Make out a check payable to the charity, not the individual collecting the donation.
6. Protect your personal information.
- Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to unknown solicitors. They may be cons who intend to steal from your account or commit identity theft.
7. Use caution when making online donations.
- Go directly to an organization’s Web site to make a donation. Don’t click on links in e-mails, and be wary of bogus sites that bear similar names to legitimate organizations. Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen, either.
- Guard online transactions. Use a secure browser that scrambles information you send. Look for the “lock” icon on the status bar and a Web address that begins with “https:” instead of the standard “http:”.
- Update your computer’s virus protection software and use a firewall to limit hackers’ access.
- Consumers who believe they are victims of charitable fraud should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636.
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