Ohio Atty. General warns consumers to avoid charity scams

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) — At a time when many are in the giving spirit, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning of potential charity scams in the state.

DeWine’s recommendations coincide with “Giving Tuesday,” an initiative on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to promote charitable giving.

“Many charities do great work, and we encourage Ohioans to give generously to their favorite causes,” he said. “Unfortunately, some con artists pose as reputable charities and pocket money that should be used to help others. We want to give consumers and businesses tools to weed out scams.”

To help detect charitable fraud, DeWine released good giving tips and introduced a new charity guide for consumers called “A Charity Guide for Businesses.” The guide addresses raffles, collection bins, point-of-sale solicitations and other issues that may arise when businesses interact with charities. It also offers a sample application that businesses can use to help evaluate solicitors who want to fund raise on the business’s premises.

He says businesses and consumers should beware of charitable scams, including:

  • Phony charities with realistic-sounding names. Just because a charity sounds legitimate doesn’t mean that it is. Many scam charities have names that sound official or trustworthy. For example, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a fraudulent charity whose operator was sentenced to prison for stealing millions of dollars from donors across the country.
  • Scam solicitors who pretend to represent a real charity. Some people claim to collect donations for a legitimate charity but keep the money for themselves instead. Be skeptical of solicitors who tell you to make a check out to an individual, rather than an organization. Also, be wary of solicitors who can’t or won’t provide detailed written information about the charity that they claim to support.
  • Crowdfunding schemes. Crowdfunding allows individuals and organizations to fund projects through the donations of a large number of people. While many crowdfunding campaigns support charitable causes, not all campaigns are legitimate. For instance, some con artists set up campaigns to raise money for cancer treatments, even though they don’t actually have cancer. Do some background research on the individual or project before supporting a crowdfunding campaign.

Attorney General DeWine offered Ohioans the following tips to avoid charity scams:

  • Develop a charitable giving plan. Determine which groups you want to support, and stick to your plan. If you receive unexpected requests for donations, explain that you already have a charitable giving plan in place.
  • Check out an organization with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Use the Attorney General’s online “Research Charities” tool or call 800-282-0515 to help determine whether the organization is in compliance with state filing requirements.
  • Review the charity’s 990 return. Most charities, other than churches, are required to submit annual 990 returns to the IRS. These returns are publicly available at www.GuideStar.org.
  • Verify the organization’s tax-exempt status with the IRS. The IRS’s “Exempt Organizations Select Check” can be used to verify if an organization has a valid 501(c)(3) or other tax-exempt designation.
  • Gather data from private watchdog groups. National watchdog groups include the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
  • Do a basic Internet search of the organization. Review information you find about the group’s accomplishments or questionable activity.
  • Ask the charity how your donation will be used. Get information in writing. Compare the charity’s written and web-based materials with the information you gather from other sources.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section investigates and pursues enforcement actions involving the misuse of charitable funds. Those who suspect questionable charitable activity should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.

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