Ark. AG Warns of Fraudulent Charities

November 12, 2004

Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe is reminding Arkansans that the upcoming holiday season is also the season for scam artists to prey upon people’s spirit of giving.

“During the holidays, when so many show their generosity, requests for charitable gifts skyrocket,” Beebe stated. “Many requests from charitable organizations are legitimate, but others are not.”

Fraudulent telemarketers, door-to-door solicitors, and Internet spammers claim to represent charitable organizations, often using names similar to well-known, legitimate charities. They will solicit a contribution or attempt to sell products to benefit a charity or a specified group, such as firefighters, police or disabled and disadvantaged children. These products often include light bulbs, vitamins, trash bags, or other household or health aids that are sold for up to 20 times their value — all in the name of charity.

These con artists typically prey on the altruistic impulses of people wishing to help others who are experiencing distress. And once someone has shown a willingness to donate, they’ll come back for more under different names and causes, keeping one’s name on their “sucker list.”

While acknowledging that giving to charitable organizations is an admirable and worthwhile practice, Beebe provided several tips to protect against charity fraud:

* When approached by an unfamiliar charity, don’t make an immediate decision. Get written information about the charity and check it out before giving a donation.
* Ask for the name of the charity, the address, and the phone number. Find out if the solicitor is an employee of the charity or a paid fund-raiser.
* Ask exactly how donations will be used. What percentage goes to overhead? If it’s a professional fund-raiser, how much does that person get? What percentage will actually be used for the services that the charity provides?
* Be wary of solicitations that purport to be for police or fire fighters. Con artists often make up names of phony police or fire associations. Even if solicitors are really raising money for police or fire departments, it’s possible that only a tiny percentage of the funds will actually go to them. Call the local police or fire department to find out if it recognizes the charity and how it will benefit from the donation.

In Arkansas , most charities and paid fund-raisers must be licensed or registered. Contact the Attorney General’s office to find out what is required and how one can check the status of the charity or fundraiser. Remember that donations are not tax-deductible if the organization does not have the required tax status.

Beebe added that questionable charities deceive donors and they shortchange the people and legitimate charities truly in need of assistance. “If you’re unsure about an organization, contact my office,” the Attorney General said. “We’re always willing and ready to check out any suspected scheme or scam.”

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