‘Tis the season of giving — and potential scams.
This holiday season, the Washington secretary of state and attorney general are warning the public, especially retirement communities and senior centers, to watch out for fraudulent charities and fundraisers.
The state’s Charitable Solicitations Act requires most charities and commercial fundraisers to register with the state before raising any money. The Secretary of State’s Office is alerting people to beware of commercial fundraisers or organizations that collect donations on behalf of charities for a hefty fee.
If you are called by someone asking for donations, here are some signs officials say can indicate it’s a scam, and you should hang up:
- The caller only accepts cash donations or checks made out to them.
- The solicitor is using aggressive tactics and deadlines, and does not give details about how the money will be allocated and spent.
- The solicitors claims they are a part of a new organization providing relief following a recent natural disaster.
If you suspect you are being targeted by scam, you can submit a complaint to the attorney general’s website: atg.wa.gov/file-complaint
Charities are required to disclose certain information to anyone asking. If the caller can’t answer the following questions, officials say they could be a scammer.
- What is the name and address of the charity? Is the organization registered with the Washington secretary of state?
- Are you being paid to make this call? Who are you working for?
- Is my contribution tax-deducible and how much of it will actually go to the charitable purpose?
- How will my money be used?
How to check out a charity asking for your money
If you cannot get a satisfying answer over the phone, there are also resources online to help find background on the organization.
- Look up the organization on Washington’s Corporations and Charities Filing System. If the organization is registered, take a look at its registration and financial information and see if it holds a federal tax-exempt status.
- If you can’t find the organization, call the charities division of Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State at 800-332-448.
- You can also see if the organization has a rating with the Better Business Bureau at: Give.org
- Sometimes third-party commercial fundraisers collect donations on behalf of a charity and often keep around 50% of the donated funds. By law, the solicitor is required to tell you if they are a commercial fundraiser if asked. You can also call the charity directly to make sure the third-party is authorized to collect donations.
According to the Washington secretary of state, you can also ask the solicitor to leave you alone in the future. Charitable solicitors are exempt from the National “Do Not Call Registry,” though state law requires all organizations not to call you for one year if requested.