The BBB – Better Business Bureau of Connecticut has alerted all charitable givers to be on alert for Charity Scammers. Charity scammers take advantage of natural disasters and tragedy’s soliciting monetary funds and donations for phony organizations. With the latest tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut involving twenty six (26) innocent victims, these scammers continue to further victimize families by persuading donors into giving to their faux charities. The BBB has listed these top ten tips for consumers to be on the lookout of these criminals:
1. Respecting Victims and Their Families
Permission from families of victims to use their photographs or names should be given before any organization can begin collecting funds on their behalf. Several organizations were criticized in the wake of the Colorado movie theatre tragedy in that they never received permission or authorization to use victims’ names / pictures.
2. Registration with the State Government
Before soliciting charitable donations, several states (approximately forty) require organizations to register with their state government agency such as the State Attorney General’s office before they ask for benevolent offerings. The charity may be given a ‘red flag’ signifying a phony charity if they are not registered.
3. Unselfish Generosity
Check the veracity of the organization you choose to contribute to and make sure they are valid and legitimate. Research the organization to see what type of charities they assist with and how their donations are managed. Seek well established organizations that are well defined.
4. Newly Created versus Established Organizations
Although giving to a particular organization is a personal choice, giving to a well-known established organization will usually have more experience, a proven track record and knows how to handle certain circumstances. New organization may not have the established reputation or be as trust-worthy.
5. Individualized Family Assistance Fund
Assistance funds are often arranged by individual families. Although these donations are set up for the single family of the victim, they may not be set up as an actual ‘charity’. Always make sure that your donations are going through a third party such as an accountant, lawyer or a bank/credit union. The third parties can assure that the funds are being appropriated and paying for the intended use such as counseling, funeral expenses and other related cost associated with the tragedy.
6. Distribution of Funds
Be mindful of unclear and imprecise solicitations of donations that do not clarify how the funds will be used and distributed. Ask several questions:
How soon will the money be distributed?
How will the victims’ families benefit from these donations?
Is a report available to advise how much money was collected?
7. Monetary Transparency
Once organizations have collected funds after a tragedy, it is important that the organization disclose how the monies were used. Legitimate organizations will put this financial information on their websites for the public to access the data and they can review how the charitable funds were spent.
8. Support Organizations
Vicious crimes involving firearms and other weapons spawn several advocacy organizations that speak on firearm (and other weapons) use. Contributors can also give charitable donations to these organizations however; take caution as many advocacy groups are not classified as tax exempt groups.
9. Online Cautiousness
Do not hyperlink on any charities that are unfamiliar and never open an email or text that you are not familiar with. Cybercriminals will take advantage of your generosity and may route you to a different website and attempt to obtain your personal information. This includes any social media sites such as Facebook and Tweeter as these sites may also contain harmful information that may contaminate your computer.
10. Tax Deductions
All charitable organizations that collect funds are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Supporters can donate to these other charities however; check to see if they are tax exempt for income tax purposes. Also, if you are donating to a specific individual/ or family resulting from a tragedy, these contributions are not considered for tax deductions.
If you would like to contribute to the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy, you may send your donations to:
Sandy Hook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Banks
39 Main Street
Newtown, CT 06470