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State officials warn of charity scams

RALEIGH ó State officials are warning people to check out organizations before making charitable contributions, and they’re cracking down on scammers preying on people’s willingness to give.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, along with 31 other state attorneys general, announced a settlement Wednesday as part of a nationwide federal and state crackdown against defendants who allegedly misled consumers by claiming to help veterans, police officers and firefighters.
“Using police, firefighters and veterans to mislead consumers about charitable contributions is just plain wrong,” Cooper said in a press release. “We need to support the legitimate charities in our communities instead of these outfits.”
Community Support Inc., of Milwaukee, Wis., solicited donations on behalf of charitable organizations through telemarketing and mailings. The attorneys general charge that Community Support used misleading statements about the charities and their connections to local communities to solicit donations.
Under the settlement, Community Support is prohibited from misrepresenting information about a charity’s activities or how a donation will benefit the charity. The fundraisers are also banned from misleading consumers about the portion of their donation that will actually benefit the charity and falsely insisting the consumer or a family member donated to a particular charity in the past.
The multi-state investigation revealed that Community Support typically kept 80 percent or more of funds it solicited for various organizations, including the N.C. Chapter of the United States Navy Veterans Association HQS, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation and the Reserve Police Officers Association.
Community Support is registered to make calls for North Carolina charities. While the N.C. Attorney General’s Office has not received complaints about the organization, other states have. North Carolina residents can learn more or file a complaint with Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NOSCAM or online at www.ncdoj.gov if they have experienced a problem.
“Making a donation to a charity can be a great way to give back,” said Cooper. “But before you hand over your hard earned money, make sure you find out where your money will go and how it will help.”
N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall agreed Wednesday, issuing her own statement to warn citizens they should watch out for scams posing as charities.
“While we have not seen a marked increase in complaints about fraud at this point, we certainly know that hard economic times can create the perfect climate for charity scams at the exact time that they create an increased need for the good works that the many genuine charitable organizations in North Carolina and elsewhere provide,” Marshall said.
“We all know that many good charities are struggling to provide help to more and more people today just as many of their usual supporters have been forced to scale back their donations. So it is vitally important that we all know how to avoid charities scams, even as we continue to support those legitimate charities that are providing much-needed services to at-risk communities hurting as a result of the economic downturn.”
Marshall offered the following tips when donating to charitable organizations:
– Watch out for charities with names that are similar to those of well-known, legitimate charitable organizations. Some scam artists use sound-alike names to mislead donors.
– Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reputable charities will provide information about their work and finances.
– If you are planning to take a tax deduction, remember to ask for a receipt and a tax deductible statement. A legitimate nonprofit charity should not hesitate to provide the proper documentation for your donation.
– Be wary of anyone soliciting an immediate donation by requesting a credit card or bank account number.
Marshall also noted the advantages of supporting local charities. “When you give to charities that have local operations helping people right in your community, it is easy to check them out and see for yourself just what sort of work they are doing and whether they are earning your support,” she said.
To find out more about charitable organizations before making contributions, visit the secretary of state’s Web site at www.sosnc.com.
By clicking on the Charitable Solicitations link next to the “Check Before You Write One” icon on the site, citizens can search the state’s Charitable Solicitations database, look at current charity licenses with the state and see financial documents filed with the secretary of state.
The site also features the Secretary of State Office’s Charitable Solicitations annual reports for the past several years, which track the percentage of charitable dollars going to individual charities and the percentage going to professional fundraisers.

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