By Penney Barker
Business & Licensing Division Director
WV Secretary of State’s Office
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and around this time of year, West Virginians may find themselves giving more to charitable causes. Helping those in need is part of the holiday spirit and who we are as citizens of the Mountain State. However, we must always be mindful of those who prey on our good nature and create fraudulent charities.
At the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, it is our responsibility to help protect citizens from falling victim to these dishonest schemes. International Charity Fraud Awareness Week, which begins Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, serves as a reminder to our generous citizens to protect themselves – and their hard-earned money – when giving to seemingly-worthy causes throughout the holiday season and beyond.
A person should never feel pressured into donating. If something doesn’t seem right about the solicitor, ask questions. Inquire about how the money will be used and request more background information on the charity by mail or email. If the solicitor is legitimate, they will likely not hesitate to respond.
When giving to charities, avoid cash and only pay by credit card or with a check made out to the organization, not the individual asking for money.
Protect yourself from phony cyber solicitations by ignoring emails from unfamiliar sources asking for donations. They are almost always scams. When donating online, ensure the URL of a reputable organization is typed correctly. Scammers commonly use similar web addresses to confuse you.
More than 5,000 charitable organizations are currently registered to solicit and receive donations in West Virginia. Our Charities Division makes it easy to search for registered organizations in our database, located at apps.sos.wv.gov/business/charities.
If a charity is on file, you can view how much the organization has put toward administrative and fundraising costs. You can also find how much money has gone to the actual cause of the charity.
If you spot what seems like a dishonest scheme, know that our Fraud Unit is on hand to investigate allegations against charities. Contact our office at 1-877-FRAUD-WV.
Remember that despite the possibility of running into charity fraud, giving is still a special part of the holiday spirit. Keeping #CharityFraudOut will help ensure your money is going toward an honest cause.
Background: Charity Fraud Awareness Week is led by an international partnership of more than 40 charities, regulators professional representative bodies and other not-for-profit stakeholders working together to combat fraud against charities. For more information on International Charity Fraud Awareness Week 2019, visit fraudadvisorypanel.org.