Research organizations and ask plenty of questions before making donations. 

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The giving spirit has long been a part of the holiday season.

Many feel inclined to donate, especially when charities tug on their heartstrings. Many of us want to help in whatever way we can. However, scammers can prey on this behavior and line their own pockets with your donation.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop donating to organizations whose work is important to you. I will continue to use my office to stop bad actors in their tracks, protecting you and your hard-earned money.

While I work to find and prosecute lawbreakers, you can do a few things to prevent scammers from targeting you and your family.

One of the best ways you can protect yourself from getting scammed is by listening to what your teachers told you in grade school — do your homework.

Any organization that requests or receives monetary donations or other items of value from the public must register with the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office.

Before donating, make sure the organization that contacted you is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office by visiting sos.wa.gov or calling the Charities Hotline at 800-332-GIVE.

A visit to the website can also tell you how your money will be spent. For registered charities, you can access financial records, which give you an idea of how the organization uses the money it receives, no matter what they tell you in person.

You can check the organization’s record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which requests an organization’s credentials, then analyzes and scores the charity in several areas, including governance, effectiveness and financial health. BBB’s website, www.give.org, gives each organization’s score and gives you a chance to report misconduct.

Before you have a chance to research the organization, the best way to stop scammers is by asking questions.

Ask the solicitor what your donation will be used for, the types of programs they implement, who their organization helps or the benefits they have seen or expect as a result of their work.

The more a solicitor doesn’t know the answers or dodges your questions, the more suspicious you should be.

Another red flag is aggressive behavior. Charitable organizations want you to want to help them achieve their mission. They feel passionate about their work and want you to feel that way, too. But don’t confuse pressuring you for money with passion for a cause.

Scammers will want you to donate right away, before you get a chance to research the organization’s credentials. If the solicitor begins pressuring you to give money, setting hard deadlines for donations or aggressively seeking payment, walk away. You have most likely been contacted by someone seeking donations for their personal bank account.

Don’t let scammers keep you from contributing to those in need. You should support the causes you care about, but you should also feel comfortable knowing that your money is going to the right place.

Do not feel guilty about turning down an organization — you can always donate at a later time.

If you find yourself being contacted by a scammer, let us know about it. My Consumer Protection Unit is dedicated to finding and stopping scammers.

Report the organization to my office online at atg.wa.gov or over the phone at 800-551-4636.

The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Learn more about protecting yourself from scams targeted toward the elderly.