Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Oct 19 2022

For Charity Fraud Awareness Week, Ferguson is highlighting ways to stay protected from scams

OLYMPIA — For this year’s International Charity Fraud Awareness Week, Oct. 17 to 21, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging Washingtonians to do research before donating and watch out for scammers seeking to take advantage of donations.

In the last year, the Attorney General’s Office has received 93 complaints related to fundraising for charities. The Attorney General’s Office brings consumer protection lawsuits to hold scam charities accountable, including phony charities claiming to help disadvantaged children, cancer patients, and veterans.

Ferguson offers four simple tips to avoid falling victim to a scam:

  • Research before giving. The best way to protect yourself from scams is to take time to research the charity before giving. The Washington Secretary of State’s office maintains a database of charities that provides some basic information about charities, including how much of their revenue is used for a charitable purpose.
  • Know who you are giving to. Some fundraisers, charities, and scammers use deceptive tactics to confuse you about their identity. In some instances, an organization might use a name very similar to another well-known charity so it can borrow on the reputable charity’s good will.
  • Don’t give in to pressure. A charity might try to influence donors by expressing an immediate need for help. Take time to verify the fundraiser’s claims.
  • Plan your giving. Decide how much you want to spend on charitable giving each year and stick to that budget. Deciding who you want to give to in advance will help you assess whether the charity fits your values.

“Scammers will try to use pressure tactics and a false sense of urgency to dupe you out of your money,” Ferguson said. “Remember: There’s never any rush to donate. Take your time and do your research before donating.”

Avoid common charity scams

Scammers may take advantage of donors in several common ways:

  • Scammers use the name of a reputable charity, or a name very similar to one, to lend credibility when they solicit donations. For example, in 2018, Ferguson took action against a person who set up six sham nonprofits with very similar names to well-known organizations, like the American Cancer Society or the American Red Cross.
  • A single organization uses several names to deceptively ask for multiple donations from the same person.
  • A charity tells its donors that their donation will go to a cause, when in reality, very little or no money actually does. For example, Ferguson shut down a charity in 2021 that used less than one percent of donations on its supposed cause. The vast majority of its money went to fundraising, advertising and salaries.
  • Political action committees phrase their fundraising pitches to make it sound like they are nonpartisan, charitable organizations. In fact, PACs are political organizations dedicated to political fundraising.

Protect your data

One of the most valuable assets a charity has is its donor list. Some charities sell or lease their list to other charities, fundraisers — and even for-profit businesses. That’s why you might start getting fundraising requests for charities you’ve never heard of after you give to a different charity.

Before you give, ask about how your personal data is handled or check the charity’s website for its privacy policy. You can also check for options that allow you to give anonymously or to opt-out of this kind of data sharing.  

Scammers sometimes pose as charities in order to get your personal banking information like a credit card number. Take these steps to protect your financial information:

  • Never pay for a donation using a gift card or wire transfer.
  • Be wary of giving your credit card or bank account information to a fundraiser who called you. You can always search for the charity’s website and give online directly or ask the solicitor for a pledge card that you may return on your own time.
  • Don’t click on “donate” buttons or other links you receive in e-mails. Instead, navigate to the charity’s website and give directly.

Is someone asking you to make a donation? Ask these three questions

If a telemarketer is unable to answer basic questions about the charity they’re collecting donations for, that is a red flag that the call could be fraudulent or misleading. A reputable charity will not object to providing basic information about their mission. Ask these three questions before making a donation:

  1. What is the charity’s purpose? A caller should know immediately the charitable mission of the organization they’re collecting money for and how they go about achieving that mission.
  2. How much of my donation goes to the charitable cause? Make sure you are comfortable with how much of your donation is going directly to the charitable purpose. You can independently verify how much of your donation is going to the cause by looking up the charity’s financial information on the Washington Secretary of State’s charity database.
  3. How does my donation benefit my community? By asking where the charity performs its activities, donors can make an informed decision on whether to give to a local charity or one that provides services nationally or internationally.

Thanks to new restrictions on telemarketers passed by the state Legislature last year, telemarketers who are asking for charitable donations must explicitly identify themselves at the start of the call. If it is unclear who is calling you, ask the caller to identify themselves.

If you are skeptical, hang up.

If you notice a charity scam or any other deceptive business practices, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.

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Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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