Secretary of State Tre Hargett is urging people to be cautious and make wise decisions when considering donations to help the Haitian relief efforts.
“Whenever there is a tragedy of this magnitude, people want to do what they can to help,” Secretary Hargett said. “Many people want to contribute money to the relief efforts. Unfortunately, there are scam artists out there who will try to take advantage of that spirit of generosity.”
Secretary Hargett recommends that potential donors follow some basic rules:
Ask a lot of questions. Reputable charitable organizations shouldn’t mind providing their addresses, telephone numbers, web sites and other information to you. Often it is a good idea to follow up with a charitable organization after doing some research rather than making a donation “on the spot.” Reputable groups should also be able to clearly explain how your contribution will be used. Individuals or groups that offer only vague information about how donations are going to be used should raise a red flag in a potential donor’s mind. Also, ask if the person soliciting money actually works for the charity or a professional fundraising organization. Often, professional fundraisers keep a large portion of the money they raise.
Do some research. If the charitable organization has a web site, check it out. Ask people you know if they have had experiences with the organization – and if those experiences were positive or negative. Also, except for exempted groups, charitable organizations operating in Tennessee are required to register with the state’s Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming. Information about how organizations have spent money in the past is available at the division’s web site: http://www.state.tn.us/sos/charity
Avoid giving cash. It is better to pay by check, for security and tax purposes. The check should be made out to the charity, not the person collecting the money. Collectors who want to make other payment arrangements should be viewed with suspicion. Donors should only use credit cards with highly-trusted organizations.
Avoid making payments or giving out personal information over the phone. Unsolicited calls requesting contributions should always be handled with caution.
Report suspicious activity. The Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming has authority to investigate and impose civil penalties against charitable organizations that engage in false, misleading or fraudulent practices. The division’s telephone number is (615) 741-2555. It may also be a good idea to contact local law enforcement officials.
“I think it is great that Tennesseans want to reach out to help the people of Haiti during this time of tragedy,” Secretary Hargett said. “I encourage people who can afford to donate to do so, but donors should take steps to make sure their money goes to serve its intended purpose.”