By Crystal Baldwin
As a little girl, I fondly remember watching my dad open scores of charitable solicitations, some containing gifts of greeting cards or address labels, others with a simple request to help their cause. This season, I am the one who opens the mail, and with thoughtful consideration asks, “Which causes should I support this year?”
In this time of giving, many of you may be asking the same question. To help you decide, I’ve outlined the steps I take before giving.
These steps help me verify that my money is going to the causes to which I intend to donate, and not to a scammer. It’s easy for a motivated scammer to create a realistic-looking website to add an appearance of legitimacy to a fake charity. If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call. Following the tips below will help to identify scams.
1. When you receive a solicitation for a new cause, research the charity before donating. Helpful websites such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB’s) Giving Wise Alliance, provide information on charities. Charity Navigator pulls information from charities’ IRS tax documents, and the BBB has an accreditation program for charities.
2. Check and double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers, even with charities to which you regularly contribute. Always ask fundraising callers to mail the solicitation so you can check the contact information. If the mailing address and phone number do not pass this verification test, contact the charity directly.
3. Look for paid fundraiser information. A paid fundraiser is a third-party solicitation company that, aside from the fundraising campaign, is not affiliated with the charity. That means a portion of the funds raised are split between the charity and the business doing the soliciting. Vermonters can ask if a third-party fundraiser is involved. When they are, that information should be disclosed upfront. The Attorney General’s Office keeps a record of paid fundraisers registered in the state. Vermonters can use this information to examine how funds are allocated. It can be found under the charities section at ago.vermont.gov. This information can also be requested by contacting the Consumer Assistance Program at (800) 649-2424.
4. Be mindful of disaster scams. In the aftermath of natural disasters, such as the California wildfires, the obligation to give can seem urgent. Unfortunately, scammers may attempt to take advantage of those who want to help.
Contributing writer Crystal Baldwin was raised in Montpelier and has worked with the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program for 10 years.