CHARLESTON — West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant reminds citizens to be cautious when donating to charity during the holiday season.
Combined with the impact of Hurricane Sandy, the holidays make for “a perfect storm for fraudulent organizations to take advantage of generous West Virginians,” a release from Tennant’s office stated.
“There are thousands of people, some right here in our state, who will struggle to provide a happy holiday for their family because of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy,” Tennant said. “My concern is that people who are running fraudulent organizations will call West Virginians and try to get them to donate money by making them feel like they have to donate money.
Tennant offered several tips to help citizens protect themselves from fraudulent charities:
• Know your charity: Never give to a charity that you know nothing about and who refuses to answer questions about where your money will go.
• Don’t yield to pressure: Don’t feel as though you must donate immediately.
• Demand identification: Ask for identification from both the solicitor and the charity. If the solicitor refuses, hang up immediately.
• Beware the name game: Be wary of crooked charities that have a name similar to a well-respected charity.
• Be prudent when giving your credit card number: Write a check and use the charity’s full name. That way you have a record of the contribution and exactly where your money went.
• When in doubt, do research: Check the Secretary of State’s searchable database.
“People in West Virginia are truly caring people, and the information on our website can help citizens protect themselves and not let dishonest people take advantage of them,” Tennant said.
There are currently 3,248 charitable organizations registered with the Secretary of State’s Office. The online database listing those charities can be found by going to the Secretary of State’s website at www.wvsos.com and clicking on the “Wise Charitable Giving” link at the top of the page. The online database shows the charity’s total contribution, the money contributed by West Virginians, and how the charity disbursed their funds, and how much of the funds were disbursed in West Virginia.
However, not all charities are found on the Secretary of State’s database. The Red Cross, for example, is monitored on the federal level. The Salvation Army is not listed on the charities database because as a religious organization, it is exempt and not required to be registered. Only charities that take in more than $25,000 in a calendar year must register with the Secretary of State’s Office unless the charity uses a professional fundraising counsel or solicitor.
“The best thing you can do if you’re contacted by a charity you think isn’t legitimate, is to ask as many questions as you can. Ask where the charity is located, where the money will be going, and if they could send you literature,” Tennant said. “The legitimate charities will welcome all of those questions because they have nothing to hide
“If you think the charity who called you isn’t legitimate, and they are not on our online database, call the Secretary of State’s Office at (304) 558-6000 or 1-866-767-8683.”