Ohio AG offers charitable giving tips after Hurricane Michael

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today offered giving tips to Ohioans who want to help those affected by Hurricane Michael.

“Ohioans have always reached out to their neighbors in need with compassion and generosity. We’re confident that once again they’ll reach into their pockets to help those who were harmed by Hurricane Michael, and we encourage them to make sure that charitable solicitations are legitimate before they donate,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Unfortunately, scammers are quick to exploit those with good intentions and too often enrich themselves with contributions that were meant to assist victims.”

After a natural disaster or tragedy, some sham fundraisers try to take advantage of donors’ generosity. They make claims that seem legitimate and use names that sound reputable or similar to those of well-known, established organizations, but ultimately they keep most or all of the money they collect for themselves, without using it for the charitable causes they claim to support.

Signs of a potential charity scam include:

  • High-pressure tactics.
  • No details about how contributions will be used.
  • No written information about the charity, its mission, or how it operates.
  • Requests for payment to an individual, rather than an organization.
  • Someone who offers to pick up donations immediately.
  • Requests for donations via cash or gift card.
  • Callers who ask for donations but don’t identify themselves and won’t provide written information about the cause.

Some people who raise money after a natural disaster or tragedy have good intentions but lack the experience to properly handle donors’ contributions.

To help ensure donations are used as intended, donors should check requests before contributing. For example:

  • Don’t rely on a group’s name alone. Many sham charities have real-sounding names.
  • Don’t assume a charity recommendation you find online has been vetted, even if it’s posted by someone you know. Check it out yourself.
  • Research charities using the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and other resources.
  • Check an organization’s IRS Form 990, which is typically available on GuideStar, to find program descriptions, expenses, and other details.
  • Determine how you can best help. For example, a charity may prefer monetary donations rather than donated goods. Similarly, if you want to set up a fundraiser for a specific group, contact the organization in advance to determine how you can properly collect donations.
  • Be aware that some calls come from for-profit companies that are paid to collect donations. If you ask, these professional solicitors must tell you how much of your donation will go to the charity. They also are required to identify themselves.

When evaluating crowdfunding or online fundraising campaigns set up to help those impacted by the storm, keep additional considerations in mind. For example:

  • Determine which campaigns are supported by those close to the tragedy and which haven’t been vetted. In some cases, the person who sets up an online fundraiser may not have permission to do so or may not use the funds as promised.
  • Find out how your money will be used. For example, will it be used for a specific person or family, or will it be used for the greater community? Keep in mind that that giving money to an individual is different from donating to a charity. Your donation may not be tax deductible. Also determine whether you will be charged any fees for making the donation and what percentage of your donation will go to the cause itself.
  • Determine what the website will do (if anything) with your personal information. Be wary of websites that do not provide a privacy policy. Also, make sure the site is secure before entering your payment information or other sensitive details. Look for the “https” in the web address; the “s” indicates that it’s secure.

Those who suspect a charity scam or questionable charitable activity should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515. The Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section investigates suspected violations of the state’s charitable laws and pursues enforcement actions to protect Ohio donors.

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