The New York State Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is advising consumers to be vigilant when donating money for the purpose of disaster relief and rebuilding efforts. Unscrupulous scam artists pose as victims, attempting to take advantage of charitable New Yorkers by asking for money to be sent to off-shore bank accounts. Others send unsolicited mailings and e-mails containing links to fake websites made to look like a legitimate organization's official site. To prevent your donation money from falling into the wrong hands, the New York State Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection recommends taking the following precautions:
- Research the charity. Verify that the organization is registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Nonprofits are required to provide a copy of their Form 990, an informational tax return that charities file annually with the IRS, to anyone who makes a request. Find out the charity’s mission, program and finances, as well as its experience and track record of success dealing with certain types of disasters in specific regions by searching the New York State Attorney General's online database of registered charities at www.oag.state.ny.us, and by visiting websites such as www.bbb.org, www.give.org and www.guidestar.org in addition to visiting the charity’s website.
- Designate your donation. Find out what percentage of your donation will directly go toward the cause as opposed to administrative costs. Ask the charity whether you can designate your donation to a specific effort rather than a general contribution fund.
- Resist high-pressure tactics. Watch out for direct e-mails from “victims” and solicitors who employ heart-wrenching stories, insisting that you donate immediately. It is strongly advised not to give money over the phone to unsolicited telemarketers, and instead ask the caller to send written materials about the charity.
- Do not disclose personal or financial information. Never give your Social Security number, credit card or debit card number or other personal identifying information in response to an unsolicited charitable request.
- Avoid giving cash. Give your contribution by check or credit card to ensure that you have a record of the donation. Make checks out to the charity, not to an individual. If you choose to make a donation via a charity's website, check that the website is secure and that your computer is equipped with the latest anti-virus protection. Do not send contributions with a "runner," by wire or overnight parcel pick-up.
- Don’t assume. Check out an organization’s tax status at www.irs.gov/app/eos to find out if the donation is tax deductible.
For information regarding a specific organization’s status, registration filings and complaints, contact the New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection at 518-474-8583.