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Don’t get scammed: AG offers tips on making charitable donations

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In the wake of several high-profile tragedies including the fertilizer plant explosion at West and tornadoes in Granbury and Oklahoma, requests for charitable donations are coming in increasing numbers.

Most Texans try to be generous, but Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued a few words of caution when it comes to responding to requests for donations.

“As generous Texans reach out to help their neighbors in the wake of these devastating events, they should carefully vet relief organizations and web sites before making any charitable contributions,” he said. “Sadly, cybersquatters – unscrupulous individuals who register online domain names with the intention of using them in bad faith – often move quickly to exploit tragedies.

According to an industry news site, more than 150 web sites with domain names relating to the West fertilizer plant explosion have been registered. A few of them may be used for genuine charitable or other efforts, but Abbott said the majority are likely destined to be used as scam-related web sites to fraudulently solicit donations.

“Texans who want to contribute to relief efforts to benefit survivors of the recent Moore, Okla. tornadoes or the West explosions should do so through well-known and easily recognized charities such as the American Red Cross,” Abbott said. “Doorstep, telephone and online solicitation should be treated cautiously and fully researched.”

If you’re solicited for a charitable contribution by telephone, text, email, mail or on a social networking site, consider the following:

  • Be sure the relief organization is legitimate. Ask for credentials, including the soliciting entity’s exact name and telephone number, particularly if they are not well-known to you.
  • Call the charity directly and confirm that the solicitor is actually working for that organization.
  • Be on the alert for questionable charities using names that closely resemble the names of well-known charities.
  • Find out how the donation will be used.
  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on descriptions about how charitable contributions will aid the recovery effort.
  • Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate decision. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations.
  • Never give a credit card or bank account number to an unknown solicitor.
  • Never give cash and never agree to give money to a courier. Write a check to the charity directly – not the soliciting individual – and get a receipt.

Rather than responding to solicitations, it’s a good idea to support established charities whose operations are open and well-known.

The American Red Cross accepts donations by phone and can help you with any questions you may have. They can be reached at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), en Espa ol at 1-800-257-7575, or the TDD operator at 1-800-220-4095.

To donate by mail, you can send checks to American Red Cross, P.O. Box 4002018, Des Moines, IA 50340-2018. Be sure to write your preferred designation (such as “Disaster Relief” or “Military Families”) on the memo line of your check, so that your donation will be applied to the area that interests you.

One way to help tornado victims in Granbury would be to donate to Trinity Habitat for Humanity, since many of the houses destroyed by the May 15 tornado were Habitat houses and the organization is already working to rebuild them.

Donations with “Granbury relief” can be mailed to Trinity Habitat for Humanity, 3345 S. Jones St., Fort Worth, TX 76110, or call 817-926-9219 for more information.

Both organizations have web sites as well, www.redcross.org and www.trinityhabitat.org, which can direct you how to give online.

To learn more about how to avoid common charity scams, contact the Attorney General’s office at 1-800-252-8011 or visit the web site www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

And if you are solicited by a charity you believe to be a scam, please call the Wise County Sheriff’s office at 940-627-5971.

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