It may be hard to believe, but during natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes — and even the current COVID-19 pandemic — unscrupulous scammers set up fraudulent fundraising operations to take advantage of Good Samaritans who want to help.
Charity fraud is committed when a perpetrator creates a bogus fundraising operation, aiming to take advantage of our sympathies, goodwill and generosity. Charity fraud may also occur when a legitimate charity represents that funds will be used for one particular purpose, but the money is used for other purposes. There are many worthy causes, so don’t let the possibility of fraud dissuade you from donating. Here are tips to help ensure your donations are put to good use.
• Ask how your donation will be used. Make the caller be specific. If the answer is vague, be wary.
• Check registration. Every charity that solicits contribution in Hawai‘i must register with the Tax and Charities Division of the Department of the Attorney General. Search the AG registered charities database at www.ag.hawaii.gov/tax.
• Check the IRS website EO Select Check at www.irs.gov/charities-&-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check. Type in the charity name to see if its federal tax standing is valid.
• You may also check other charity watchdogs, such as Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org), Better the Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org), Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) or GuideStar www.guidestar.org).An internet search is also advised.
• Make sure you understand which organization is requesting your money. Some scammers use names that sound similar to legitimate charities.
• Ask what percentage of your donation goes toward admini strative costs versus the program itself. The acceptable percentage is up to you. To check the charity’s financial reports, go to www.ag.hawaii.gov/tax.
• Do not pay over the phone and scrutinize written material sent to you.
• Pay by check or credit card; never cash.
• Note that scammers can change their caller ID to make it appear as a local number.
• Call the organization to verify the caller’s name and request. Despite these safeguards, if you feel that you have been the victim of a scam:
• Call 9-1-1.
• Call the Department of the Attorney General, Tax and Charities Division, at 808-586-1480 or email ATGCharities@hawaii.gov.
• Call the Federal Bureau of Investigation at 808-566-4300.
• File a report on the Federal Trade Commission website: www.ftc.gov/complaint.
Follow these tips to help ensure your money is going to a worthwhile program.