This week, the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 46 agencies from 38 states, shut down the operators of a massive and long-running charity fundraising phone scam. These scammers bombarded 67 million consumers with 1.3 billion deceptive fundraising calls (mostly illegal robocalls) and duped generous Americans into donating more than $100 million to charities that never delivered the services they promised.
Consumers received calls asking them to give to charities that supposedly supported homeless veterans, victims of house fires, breast cancer patients, or children with autism—but the fundraising companies making the calls knew that these organizations spent little or none of that money on the causes they claimed to support. Instead, the fundraising companies themselves kept as much as 90 cents out of every dollar they collected on behalf of the charities.
Under the terms of a settlement, which are now pending court approval, the remaining active group of companies behind this scam will be forced to shut down. The owners and senior managers of the fundraising companies will also be required to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars they collected through the deceptive charitable solicitations, and funds will be directed to legitimate charities that support similar causes. Many of these individuals will be permanently barred from raising money for charity, telemarketing to sell goods or services, using robocalls in any form of telemarketing, using abusive calling practices, or making any misrepresentation about a product or service.
This group of scammers is being held accountable, but there are others out there. That’s why it’s important to donate wisely and make sure your donations to charity will make a difference.
Check out charities before you give
Here are things you can do to avoid scams and make sure charities you donate to are using your money the way you expect:
- Research a charity online through online independent sources like IRS Select Check, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
- Ask questions—a legitimate charity, or fundraising company calling on behalf of a legitimate charity, should be able to give you the organization’s official name, address, telephone number, mission, and information about how your charitable donation will be used.
- Search the charity’s name online with the words “scam” or “complaint.” See what other people say about it.
Warning signs—charities to avoid
Here are some warning signs that tell you that a charity may not be legitimate, and you should avoid donating to them:
- The charity makes vague sentimental claims and can’t tell you specifically how your donation will be used.
- The charity asks for your payment via a money order or cash. (Never donate using cash, gift card, or wire transfer. Use a credit card whenever possible.)
- The charity tries to rush you into donating immediately and offers to send a courier to collect your contribution.
- The organization uses a name that sounds very similar to another charity’s name. Scam artists often try to take advantage of names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate charities, which is why it’s important to do some research.
If you see these warning signs or you’re just not sure about a charity, consider donating to another organization. There are many excellent organizations that will use your donations well.
If you believe you have been the victim of charity fraud or encountered a fraudulent solicitation, report it to OAG by:
- Texting “COMPLAINT” to 202-738-5212 and following the prompts
- Messaging OAG using the chat feature at: oag.dc.gov/consumer
- Submitting a complaint online at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint
- Calling (202) 442-9828
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about how to avoid unwanted robocalls here: https://oag.dc.gov/blog/operation-call-it-quits-strengthening-efforts-stop
The Office of the Attorney General works to educate District residents about their consumer rights, responds to individual consumer complaints, and takes appropriate law enforcement action when possible. Learn more about your rights and how to protect yourself against scams at oag.dc.gov/ConsumerProtection.