Wolf Administration Warns Against Charity Scams


HARRISBURG, PA — With so many people donating to charities this time of year, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) and Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) are offering tips to help consumers make sure their contributions are going to legitimate charitable organizations.

“The holiday season is a time many Pennsylvanians will generously support charities and nonprofit organizations through financial contributions,” said Secretary of Banking and Securities Richard Vague. “Unfortunately, there are also many bad actors seeking to prey on this generosity by masquerading as charities while redirecting funds for personal enrichment.”

Consumers can protect their contributions and prevent becoming a victim by learning how to identify a charity scam.

Red Flags of Charity Scams:

  1. Similar Sounding Name: Scammers often use names that sound similar to legitimate charities to intentionally create confusion.
  2. High-Pressure Solicitation: Fraudsters will try to force a hasty decision by turning up the pressure. They may cold call, identifying you as a previous contributor, and asking for your renewed support or to update your credit card information. These attempts rely on catching consumers off guard to extract financial information.
  3. 100% Guarantee – Most people want to ensure that their donations are going toward legitimate program expenses. Every organization has some level of administrative cost, which can include mailing and printing, rent and utilities, staff, or fundraising. An organization that promises that 100% of your funds are going directly to an individual in need might require additional scrutiny.
  4. Donation by Wire Transfer or Gift Card – Legitimate charities will not ask you to make payment via money order or wire transfer. If you are being solicited for a donation and are asked to pay by these means, hang up immediately. A charity may ask for donations of gift cards such as from a grocery store to supply to someone in need. Never read the information from a gift card over the phone or provide it via email. After verifying the legitimacy of the charity, take any physical gift card donation directly to the location of the charity and request documentation of your contribution.
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“The Department of State offers helpful tips on charitable giving to protect generous Pennsylvanians from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous groups. For example, it’s not a good idea to give money over the telephone unless you are already familiar with the organization,” Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid said. “I encourage all donors to check out our tips and consider the recommendations below before giving.”

Here are a few tips that can help you avoid being the victim of a charity scam:

  • Always research before giving.
    • Visit the Department of State’s online charities database to verify an organization’s basic financial information about expenses for program services, fundraising, and management: http://www.charities.pa.gov/
    • You can also check to see if an organization has been subject to corrective action by the Department of State’s Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations by checking its enforcement and disciplinary actions page.
    • Check whether an organization is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a Tax Exempt Organization: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/
    • Groups such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch offer information and ratings about charitable organizations.
  • Don’t feel pressured to make a donation on the spot. Take time to do research before sharing your money or information.
  • Check websites closely. Charity scams can be vehicles for identity theft by directing victims to fake charity websites where personal and financial information are taken for nefarious purposes.
  • Avoid wire transfer or money order donations. Any requests for these kinds of payments should be approached with caution.
  • Direct your payment to the charity. Never make a check payable to an individual; write the check to the verified organization.
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If you’ve been the victim of a charity scam, contact the Department of State’s Division of Charities Investigation Unit/Audits at RA-STBEICIU@pa.gov or use the online complaint form. You should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and contact local law enforcement through non-emergency channels.

Anyone can contact DoBS at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-722-2657 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products.

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