How To Avoid Charity Scams Trying To Cash In On Las Vegas Attack

Image courtesy of w4nd3rl0st (InspiredinDesMoines)

Sunday night’s senseless attack on a concert crowd in Las Vegas left 59 people dead and more than 500 injured, and yet there are jerks out there trying to cash in by preying on those who want to help the victims and families affected by the tragedy.

How To Tell If A Charity Is A Scam

While there are legitimate charities and fundraising efforts tied to the Las Vegas shootings (see the final section of this story), there are also reports of scam artists creating fake charities to con well-meaning folks out of their money.

The Federal Trade Commission has good advice on warning signs that could indicate a bogus charity. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has issued a consumer alert, warning people to be cautious before giving to causes that claim to aid victims in Las Vegas.

Here are some of the best tips we’ve found for detecting and avoiding scam charities.

Beware pushy telemarketers: If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.

Ask for written information: This includes its full name, address, and telephone number.

Call the charity: Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.

Trust your gut and check your records:
Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.

Be cautious of “look-alike” websites and charities: Fraudulent websites might look a lot like an authentic organization, but may have slightly different URLs. Some organizations may also use names that closely resemble well-established charities.

Protect yourself: Never give your Social Security number or other personal information in response to a charitable solicitation, and don’t hand out your credit card information to an unfamiliar organization.

Contact the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in your state: The National Association of State Charity Officials has contact information for regulators in each state available on its website.

Your state office also can verify how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and man­agement expenses.

In California, Becerra’s office advises residents to check the registration status of any charity against the AG’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. You should confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with their financial reporting.

You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar.

Be wary of charities that spring up overnight:
They may make a compelling case for your money, but as a practical matter, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get your donation to the affected area or people.

Do your research on social network fundraising: If you’re are planning to donate through a social network solicitation, find out what percentage is going to the charity, whether you will be charged a fee, or if a percentage of your donation will be paid to the platform website.

Watch out for similar sounding names:
Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.

Be wary of charities eager to collect cash:
If they say they are sending a courier or offering overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately, you have to wonder whether the charity is legitimate.

Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible”:
Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.

Do not send or give cash donations:
Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to pay by credit card. If you’re thinking about giving online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”)

How You Can Help Las Vegas Victims

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is directing folks to a GoFundMe page set up for victims.

Aside from donating money, here are other ways LVMPD says people can help:

Give blood: United Blood Services will take donations by appointment only.

Physical donations: If you would like to donate water, canned goods, or non-perishable items, LVMPD is asking folks to check out Three Square and Catholic Charities.

“We appreciate the outpouring of support, but the substations cannot currently manage the physical donations and we kindly ask you donate them to the organizations to ensure their distribution,” says Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission Chair from Las Vegas.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.