In the wake of the flooding that has hit Tennessee counties, Secretary of State Tre Hargett is urging people to watch out for scam artists who may try to solicit money for bogus charities.
"When a disaster like this strikes, it is natural that people want to help their neighbors as much as possible,” Secretary Hargett said. “Unfortunately, these types of tragedies also create opportunities for unscrupulous people who want to take advantage of that spirit of generosity."
Secretary Hargett suggests that people follow some basic rules before making donations to flood relief efforts:
Ask a lot of questions. Legitimate charities shouldn’t mind providing their addresses, telephone numbers, web site addresses or other contact information. They should also be able to provide clear explanations for how donated money would be used. It should be a red flag if a person soliciting money offers only vague information about how contributions would be spent. It is also helpful to know if the person asking for money actually works for the charity or a professional fundraising organization. Often professional fundraisers keep large portions of the donations they collect.
Avoid pressure to make contributions “on the spot” or over the telephone. Unsolicited requests for donations should always be treated with caution. Making payments or giving out personal information over the telephone increases vulnerability to scam artists. Legitimate charities should not object if people want time to think over their decisions about making donations.
Do some research. Except for exempted groups, most charitable organizations raising money in Tennessee are required to register with the Office of the Secretary of State’s Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming. By visiting the division’s web page - http://www.state.tn.us/sos/charity - prospective donors can find out if a group is properly registered or covered by an exemption. Financial reports for registered groups can be reviewed online. Organizations that are required to be registered but are not should be reported to the division. Prospective donors can call the division at (615) 741-2555 with questions. Information about various charitable groups may also be found at other places online. Also, bear in mind that fraudulent charities often use names that are similar to legitimate organizations.
Pay by check. Checks are preferable to cash payments, for security and tax purposes. Checks should be made out to the charity, not the person collecting donations. Donors should only make payments by credit card with highly-trusted organizations.
Report suspicious activity. The Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming has authority to investigate and impose civil penalties against individuals or groups who engage in false, misleading or fraudulent fundraising practices. Suspicious activity may be reported to the division at (615) 741-2555 or to local law enforcement authorities.
"I encourage people who can afford to give and want to give money to assist flood victims,” Secretary Hargett said. "That said, it is important for would-be contributors to make wise decisions so their hard-earned money ends up helping people who really need it instead of enriching people who are callously trying to take advantage of an unfortunate situation."