AG Takes Aim at Fraudulent Charities

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The causes — police and fire departments, and veterans’ organizations — are worthwhile. Trouble is, the charities that claim to be donating to them are not.

Some local residents have reported to us recently that they’ve been badgered on the phone by callers claiming to be with reputable charities. And while they might be donating some of the money to such noble causes, chances are it isn’t much.

And often, callers from these organizations are aggressive and harassing in trying to get your money — a telltale sign a charity isn’t necessarily in that much of a “giving” mood.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed have taken aim at such “badge” charities, and McKenna is using his office’s civil enforcement authority to crack down on them.

“Operation False Charity is about sounding the siren on the phonies, cheapskates and outlaws,” McKenna said in a press release. “We’re policing those who claim to be raising money for cops, firefighters and veterans but aren’t being honest.”

The charities aren’t uncommon, especially in bigger cities, points out Port Orchard Police Commander Geoff Marti. Marti himself remembers getting such calls when he worked in law enforcement in Lincoln, Neb.

“Sometimes people do create a charity for what sounds like local law enforcement or a first responder, and sometimes they can even do it legally,” he said. “And people believe they’re giving to their local law enforcement agency or fire department.”

Here’s a brief overview of some of the questionable charities that are being targeted by McKenna and Reed, as well as other state attorneys general nationwide:

Community Support, Inc.: The Milwaukee, Wisc.-based company claims it helps fund 35 charities in every state, but in 2008,  only 12 percent of its contributor’s dollars went to charity, according to Reed’s office.

Nationwide Fundraisers (and the Reserve Police Officer’s Association): The Phoenix, Az., company is not registered as a charity with the state and therefore can’t solicit donations. But when they’ve been able to collect donations in other states, only about one percent actually went to a reputable charity, McKenna’s office said.

David Scott Marleau: A plethora of charities under his name, including ones supposedly devoted to police, firefighters, veterans and children, had also been found to actually devote very little money to programs that help any of the four aforementioned groups.

American Veterans Relief Foundation, Inc., Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, Inc, and Disable Firefighters Found: Each were found to return anywhere from five to 17 percent to actual charities by Reed’s Office.

Many penalties have already been leveled against each of the above organizations already. But that doesn’t mean such attempts to get in your wallet will go away.

So how can you spot a phony charity? Here’s some helpful tips from McKenna’s office:

1. Check out charities before you give. Confirm a charity is registered and review its financial records at www.secstate.wa.gov/charities or call toll-free at (800) 332-4483. There are a number of other organizations, including the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance  (www.give.org) or the American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org). Oh, and if you feel you’re a victim of charity fraud, contact McKenna’s office at (800) 551-4636 or file a complaint online at www.atg.wa.gov.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask how your money will actually go toward the charity.

3. Keep a record of the transaction (which you should anyway for tax purposes).

4. If you choose, you can remove your name from mailing and telemarketing lists. Contact the Direct Marketing Association’s opt-out service at www.dmachoice.org. You can also get on the the national “Do Not Call” list at www.donotcall.gov or by calling (888) 382-1222.

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