OLYMPIA...Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and AARP are urging Washington residents to make wise choices when giving money to charity and avoid unscrupulous fundraising groups during the holidays and afterward.
The two statewide officials and AARP are also sharing tips on how to give wisely.
"Washingtonians are very generous," Wyman said. "Many of us give money to help those in need, whether it's here or around the world. Unfortunately, people can be victimized by scammers if they aren't cautious and do their homework before they give. We want to help people avoid having that happen to them."
"Charity scams increase during the holidays," said Ferguson. "It is important to exercise caution and make sure your money helps those who truly need it."
Ferguson said there are several common-sense ways to avoid getting scammed by those seeking donations:
According to AARP, seniors 65 and older – a group that makes up 13.6 percent of Washington's population – are especially targeted by solicitors, and thus should be very careful and research where their donations are going.
"Solicitors may come door-to-door, stand on street corners or in shopping malls, advertise in newspapers or on the radio, send letters or emails, or call on the phone," says AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center Director Jean Mathisen. "You may feel pressured to give money on the spot, before you have a chance to think. But while it's good to give, it's just as important to give wisely," she said.
The Office of Secretary of State's Charities Program has released the latest figures in its Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report.
Overall this year, charities that used commercial fundraisers received an average of 46 percent of contributions, the same percentage as found in the 2012 report but lower than 56 percent reported in 2011. As usual, the percentage that individual fundraisers retained was wide-ranging: Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining funds to charity, while other fundraisers' fees and expenses were more than the amount raised.
The report spotlights recent financial information for commercial fundraisers who solicit or collect donations on behalf of their charity clients. The causes vary widely and include police, firefighter and veteran organizations, medical research, animals, civil liberties, and the environment, to name a few.
Click http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/charities/FundraiserReport.pdf to see the current report, which can be viewed as a PDF or Excel file.
Here is a link showing the report's history between 1995 and 2013: http://1.usa.gov/1iwWWXW.
"It's sad to think there are unscrupulous solicitors who prey on unsuspecting seniors, but unfortunately it happens," Wyman said. "That's why we ask donors to find out where their money will go when they give. We hope all contributors – regardless of age – will take time to learn which commercial fundraising groups rate poorly on forwarding donated money to the intended charities."
The report, which has existed since 1995, was revamped last year so it now is updated weekly. Consumers can run their own reports in real time and get current registration information on commercial fundraisers.
"I encourage potential donors to use this report – and the other registration and financial information available from my office – to give wisely this holiday season and beyond," Wyman said.
Commercial fundraisers use many methods to solicit the public, including the telephone and sending mailers asking them to give money to a cause. Commercial fundraisers, who are compensated for their efforts, take a cut of the donations before sending money to the charitable organization or charge a fee for their services.
"People should realize that when someone asks them for a donation, there's a chance a third party is getting paid to make that solicitation," Wyman said. "Although most of these commercial fundraisers help important charities stay afloat, some use a large portion of donations to pay for administrative costs and expenses – or to make a large profit."
"Investigating the charity before giving will help ensure you don't get scammed," said Ferguson. "In the unfortunate event you do get scammed, contact my office."
The Washington Attorney General and Secretary of State advise consumers to contact potential charities directly. For more information on finding charities, visit SOS charity lookup. You can also contact the OSOS Charities Hotline at I-800-332-4483. If a consumer believes they have been scammed, contact the AGO at 1-800-551-4636.
AARP's Fraud Fighter Call Center is also kicking off a statewide calling blitz to warn consumers about charitable giving scams. The organization plans on making thousands of calls in the coming days. If you have questions about wise charitable giving, or would like free informational resources contact the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center toll-free at 1-800-646-2283.
2013 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report at a glance (As of Dec. 3, 2013)