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In the wake of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or death of a community member, it is common to want to help those affected by tragedy.  Unfortunately, individuals and organizations attempt to take advantage of generous consumers by posing as phony charities to steal money or financial information.  Following major events such as Hurricane Florence and the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions, scammers may use phone, email, social media, and websites that are similar to well-known charities in order to trick sympathetic consumers.

Before you give, be sure your donations are going to a legitimate organization.

  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, the address, and what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and to the fundraiser.
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Search the name online utilizing search words along with the name such as “complaints” and “scam.”
  • Check with entities such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch.
  • Call the charity separately. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The development staff will be able to help you.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser is registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials or the Attorney General’s Public Charities Annual Filing
  • Be wary of charities that were very recently established. In some instances legitimate charities do develop quickly and are often supported by local non-profits or government agencies. For instance, the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund. If you’re unsure, ask your local police department, town hall, our Office or the Attorney General’s Office. If no one is familiar with the charity, it’s best to donate elsewhere.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information including your credit card or bank account number – unless you are certain the charity is reputable.
  • Never wire money or pay with cash. Pay by check or credit card and never make a check out directly to an individual—make sure it’s payable to the organization.

Remember, legitimate organizations do not pressure you or threaten you into donating. If someone calls your home or visits your doorstep, don’t be afraid to tell you’d like to do a little research and that you are not comfortable giving at this time.

If you think you have been a victim of a charity scam, report it to our Office, your local police department, the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s Office.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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