The Department and the Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) offer guidance to help consumers ensure their contributions are going to legitimate charities. Consumers can protect their contributions and avoid becoming a victim by learning how to identify a charity scam.
Charity scam red flags:
1. Similar Sounding Name – Scammers often use names that sound like legitimate charities to intentionally cause confusion.
2. High pressure solicitation – Fraudsters will try to force a hasty decision by increasing the pressure. They can cold call, identify you as a previous contributor and request your renewed support or update your credit card information. These attempts consist of catching consumers off guard and extracting financial information from them.
3. 100% Guarantee – Most people want to make sure their donations are for legitimate program expenses. Every organization has some level of administrative costs, which may include mail and printing, rent and utilities, staff, or fundraising. An organization that promises that 100% of your funds will go directly to someone in need might need further consideration.
4. Donate by wire transfer or gift card – Legitimate charities will not ask you to make payment by money order or wire transfer. If you are approached for a donation and asked to pay by these means, hang up immediately. A charity can ask for donations of gift cards, for example to a grocery store, to supply someone in need. Never read gift card information over the phone or provide it via email. After verifying the legitimacy of the charity, take any physical gift card donations directly to the charity’s location and request documentation of your contribution.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid falling victim to a charity scam:
Always do research before donating.
Visit the Department of State’s Charities Online Database to verify an organization’s basic financial information on expenses for program services, fundraising, and administration: charities.pa.gov
You can also check whether an organization has been subject to corrective action by the Department of State’s Bureau of Societies and Charities by visiting its Enforcement and Disciplinary Actions page.
Check to see if an organization is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt organization: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/ o Groups such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and CharityWatch offers information and ratings on charities.
Don’t feel obligated to donate on site. Take the time to research before sharing your money or information.
Check websites carefully. Charity scams can be vehicles for identity theft by directing victims to fake charity websites where personal and financial information is taken for nefarious purposes.
Avoid wire transfers or money order donations. Any request for this type of payment should be approached with caution.
Direct your payment to the charity. Never make a check payable to an individual; make the check payable to the verified organization. DOS offers helpful advice on charitable giving to protect generous Pennsylvanians from exploitation by unscrupulous groups.
If you have been the victim of a charity scam, contact the Department of State’s Charities Division’s Investigation/Audits Unit at RA-STBEICIU@pa.gov or use the complaint form at line. You should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and contact local law enforcement through non-emergency channels.