Be Careful of Phony Charities Soliciting Donations for Orlando Shooting Victims
NEWARK – With many New Jersey residents anxious to show support for the victims of this week's mass shooting in Orlando, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today cautioned consumers to beware of phony charity scams. While the outpouring of grief, concern and support for the families affected by this tragedy is enormous, so is the potential for fraud.
"In the aftermath of a tragedy such as this one, good people are moved to find ways to help victims start the healing process, often by sending money," said Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy. "Unfortunately, bad actors are just as motivated to find ways to exploit the situation for their own profit."
Would-be donors are urged to proceed with caution.
"Consumers should apply a critical eye to any emails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings, or telephone calls soliciting money to help those devastated by the Orlando shooting," said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. "The best way to provide support for the victims is to make sure the money you donate is going to a legitimate charity that actually benefits them."
To avoid getting taken by phony charity scams, consumers should follow these steps before opening their checkbooks:
- Try to limit your giving to charities you know and trust. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. If a charity is new, that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't donate – but learn as much as possible before you decide to entrust the organization with your money.
- Learn about the charity's stated mission, and find out how, exactly it plans to use your money. Ask for literature and read it. Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.
- Contact the Division's Charities Hotline at (973) 504-6215 or http://www.state.nj.us/lps/ca2/charities/ to learn about specific charities. You can confirm whether a charity is registered or is exempt from registration requirements. (Certain religious or educational organizations, and those that raise less than $10,000 in a calendar year, are exempt from the registration requirement).
- Visit the Division's website to review the charities most recently reported financial information – including the amount of the charity's annual expenses that went to actual charitable programs, as opposed to fundraising or management expenses.
- Be especially cautious when responding to e-mail and telephone solicitations money for victims of a recent tragedy. These methods of solicitation are more often used by fraudsters seeking to take advantage of a tragedy for their own gain.
- Delete unsolicited e-mails and don't open attachments, even if they claim to contain video or photographs. The attachments may contain viruses designed to steal personal financial information from your computer.
- Beware of solicitors that pressure you to act quickly or donate on the spot. That's a telltale sign of a scam. Legitimate organizations will allow you time to consider what kind of contribution, if any, you want to make, even if you've donated to them in the past.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card, or write a check directly to the charity.
- Do not make checks payable to individuals; make checks payable only those organizations which you found listed as active in the Division database.
- Be wary of providing personal or financial information, even to charities you've confirmed are legitimate. Limit the information to what is needed to process your donation.
- Social media sites can also perpetuate scams. Do not blindly give via these mediums. As with any charity, investigate the groups behind such pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization.
Consumers are urged to report suspicious solicitations to their local police and to the Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling one of the numbers referenced above.