08/15/2017 Release Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Attorney General:
RICHMOND(August 15, 2016)- In the wake of the tragic loss of life and injuries to innocent people in Charlottesville this weekend, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is encouraging Virginians to exercise caution as they consider donating money to assist victims in their recovery.
Sadly, scammers often use natural disasters and tragic events such as this to set up fake charities where the money collected is pocketed by the scammer.
As Virginians consider assisting victims through donations to charities and "crowd-funding" campaigns on sites like GoFundMe, it is very important to be aware that some may be unauthorized "scampaigns" or even outright charity scams under the guise of relief to victims.
"Virginians are bighearted people who want to help their fellow citizens, but we have to be cautious and smart about it because the sad truth is there are pathetic people out there who will try to exploit a tragedy like this to line their own pockets," said Attorney General Herring. "Take the time to vet the organization, campaign, or page organizer before contributing. If you have questions or concerns about whether a charity is legit, call my Consumer Protection Section and we'll be happy to help. As we come together to help our fellow citizens heal, we don't want anyone to worry about whether their money will be used for good."
Prior to making any contributions, attorney general encourages potential donors to take some common-sense precautions before making any contributions. While there are many legitimate organizations that provide relief to disaster victims, there are many con artists that will use the phone, e-mail, U.S. Mail, the internet, or personal contact to try to separate you from your money. Always follow these tips when considering a charitable donation:
- Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
On crowdfunding sites:
- Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
- Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures.
- Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.
- If contributing over the internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number.
- Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services.
- Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.
- Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
- Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
- Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible.
- Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
- Verify the charity's registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs ("OCRP") at 804-786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online: http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi
Who to Contact
You can report charitable solicitation fraud to the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs at the following addresses and telephone numbers:
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Consumer Protection Section
202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
800-552-9963 (if calling from Virginia)
804-786-2042 (phone) (if calling from Richmond area)
The Virginia Attorney General has authority under state and federal consumer protection statutes to investigate and prosecute charitable solicitation and other consumer fraud and misrepresentation. If an action is brought, the Attorney General can seek injunctive relief to halt fraudulent or deceptive conduct in Virginia and restitution for injured consumers.
Here is a link to the Attorney General's Consumer Complaint Form:
OFFICE OF CHARITABLE AND REGULATORY PROGRAMS
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218
The OCRP in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services administers the provisions of the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions ("VSOC") law, Virginia Code §§ 57-48 through 57-69. OCRP investigates complaints where there is an alleged violation of the VSOC law by a charitable organization or its professional fundraiser while soliciting contributions in Virginia. If it has reason to believe violations have occurred, the OCRP can make an investigative referral to the Attorney General's Office and/or other agencies for a possible law enforcement action.
Here is a link to OCRP's Charitable Solicitation Complaint Form: