The Attorney General's Office today warned consumers throughout Washington that charity scams have gotten an early jump on the holiday giving season. Consumers in the Seattle area are currently being called by "Operation Holidays - Set the Table Food Basket Drive," which asks for donations to buy gifts for holiday baskets they claim will be distributed by Northwest Harvest and Seattle Emergency Housing.
That's news to Ruth Velozo, of Northwest Harvest and Janice Foster of Seattle Emergency Housing, who say their organizations are unaware of receiving anything from this group or gave permission for their names to be used in its fundraising efforts.
"These people are abusing the good name and reputations of these organizations ," said Janice Marich of the Attorney General's Office. "They prey on the generosity of people who want to help and they take away from people who are truly needy."
The Attorney General's Office encourages consumers not to give to an organization they know nothing about without first calling the other charities listed to confirm their involvement. It was such a call that first alerted Velozo that Northwest Harvest's name was being used as part of this solicitation.
Use of familiar sounding names or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate charities is a common tactic used by bogus charities. Unsuspecting consumers willingly give donations because they trust and respect the legitimate charities mentioned.
The Attorney General's Office urges consumers to make sure their donation dollars count by having a giving plan and sticking to it. Decide what types of causes you want to support and research the charities that provide those services. Then, write your check. Avoid "impulse giving" and never give based solely on a telephone solicitation or to an organization you haven't checked out.
One of the first stops in checking out a charity is to call the Secretary of State's Office at 1-800-332-4483. By law, most charitable organizations and commercial fund-raisers must be registered with them. Be aware, though, that a charity being registered is not an endorsement nor a guarantee against deception.
If you have a complaint about a charity or would like a copy of the Attorney General's charity brochure, call 1-800-551-4636.
"RED FLAGS" OF GIVING
If any of these "red flags" surface, check out the solicitor and the cause carefully before giving any money.
Familiar sounding names - Some charities, including for-profit companies, have sympathetic sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate charities.
The "sob story" - The hard luck take is a favorite ploy of the phony operator. A legitimate charity should have no problem in telling you exactly how your money will be used.
Sales tactics - such as insisting you decide immediately or making you feel guilty. High pressure is the earmark of a less than sincere charity.
Reluctant to send you written information. Legitimate charities usually won't hesitate to send you written information before you give. However, just because it's in writing doesn't mean the charity is legit.
Sending cash or having a courier immediately collect your money. Pay by check and make it out directly to the charity, not an individual. Never give out your credit card number to someone who solicits over the phone.
Prizes contests and sweepstakes.. usually a fraudulent telemarketer using the cloak of a charitable solicitor. Most likely will ask for a donation in order to receive your prize. You do not have to donate for a chance to win.
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE
Charities: Check Before Giving