|NEWARK - Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today continued the commemoration of National Consumer Protection Week by reminding consumers to exercise caution when donating to disaster relief funds, crowdfunding campaigns, and other charitable causes promoted on social media.
“With sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter providing millions of users with images and stories of human suffering, the urge to donate can become overwhelming. No one understands this better than the con artists,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Criminals are constantly looking for ways to prey on the generosity of others and social media sites are prime hunting ground for them. Would-be donors must beware of scammers playing on their emotions for a profit.”
“Social media makes it easy to get swept up in a cause, whether it’s raising money for disaster victims or funding life-saving surgery for someone in a crowdfunding campaign,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Before consumers open their wallets, they should do some research to make sure their money is going to a legitimate cause, not into the pocket of a criminal.”
To avoid getting taken by phony causes and charities, consumers should follow these steps before donating:
- Don’t Assume All Crowdfunding Requests Are Legitimate – Need-based campaigns on GoFundMe and other personal fundraising websites present compelling stories from people asking for help with veterinary bills, accommodations for a sick child, or unexpected setbacks. Before donating to someone’s cause-related campaign, do your best to verify that the campaign is legitimate.
- Verify the Legitimacy of Charitable Organizations – Make sure the organization you are considering supporting is a bona fide charity. If you aren't sure, ask for the organization's EIN (Employment Identification Number) and then check with a charity watchdog organization like Charity Navigator to confirm its status.
- Find Out How Your Money Will Be Spent - Learn about the charity's stated mission, and exactly it plans to use your money. Ask for literature and read it. Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.
- Make Sure Charities Soliciting in New Jersey are Registered - To verify the status of a New Jersey Charity contact the Division's Charities Hotline at (973) 504-6215 or visit its online Directory of Registered 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).
- Beware of Post-Disaster Solicitations – When tragedy strikes, people are eager to donate money to help the victims. Scammers are quick to cash in on this. Be especially cautious when responding to e-mail and telephone solicitations seeking money for victims of a recent tragedy. These methods of solicitation are often used by fraudsters looking to make a quick buck.
- Delete Unsolicited E-Mails Seeking Charitable Donations – Don’t open email attachments, even if they claim to contain video or photographs. The attachments may contain viruses designed to steal personal financial information from your computer.
- 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 to those organizations that you have independently verified.
- Make Sure Online Donations Are Secure – Online transactions can be intercepted by hackers and identity thieves. Make sure your contributions are going through a secure website by looking for the ‘https://” connection in the address bar. Make online transactions only after you are convinced a charity is legitimate.
- Be Wary of Providing Personal or Financial Information – Even when donating to charities that you've confirmed are legitimate, the information you provide should be limited to what is needed to process your donation.
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.
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