Charleston, W.Va. – Donating to charities helps our communities and state stay strong, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant said. But citizens should be aware of people who aren’t looking to spread any holiday cheer.
With less than three weeks to go before Christmas, many West Virginians will be looking to donate to a worthwhile charity. While there are thousands from which to choose, Secretary Tennant wants citizens to be aware that there may be some that only want to steal your money – not help those in need.
“West Virginians are caring people who will always help a neighbor in need,” Tennant said. “Unfortunately there are people who will take advantage of that generosity and try to rip us off.”
Tennant said there are many ways to make sure you don’t become a victim of charity fraud. She said if you receive a phone call with someone asking you to donate, you should ask questions like how the charity plans to spend your donation and whether the charity is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Most charities are required to register with the Secretary of State’s Office. If a charity raises more than $25,000 in a year, they are required to register. However, there are charitable organizations that do not have to register. Organizations such as non-profit hospitals, one time charities, and organizations that are monitored on a national level (such as the Salvation Army) do not have to register.
It is one of the Secretary of State’s duties to investigate charity fraud. Under Secretary Tennant’s administration several cases of charity fraud have been investigated and prosecuted at the county level resulting in jail time and restitution paid to victims.
“People also need to be aware of fraudulent charities whose names are very similar to well known charities,” Tennant said. “And remember that the honest charities want you to ask questions because they have done everything right and are legitimate."
Another valuable resource is the Secretary of State’s online charity database. Every charity that is registered to solicit donations from West Virginians is listed. Charities and fundraisers can be searched by name or by city. The database lists how much money every charity has taken in during the last year, and how that money was disbursed. How much went to administration, a fundraiser, and the charity’s programs can all be seen.
The database can be found here on the Secretary of State’s website.
The Online Guide to Safe Charitable Giving can also be found on the Secretary of State’s website. The guide includes even more information on how to protect yourself from charity fraud.
If you think you have been a victim of charity fraud, contact the Secretary of State’s Office at (304) 558-6000 or 1-866-767-8683.