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Avoiding a potential holiday scam

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West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant is urging citizens to ask questions of solicitors, research a charity before they donate and contacting the Investigations Unit of the office if they have questions about a charity.

The Secretary of State's Office maintains an online database of organizations licensed to solicit donations from West Virginians. Citizens can even see how a charity spends its donations and grants, broken down into three categories: administrative costs, funds paid to professional fundraisers and how much was spent on the charity's programs.

The database can be accessed by visiting the Secretary of State's web site at www.wvsos.com and clicking the "Wise Charitable Giving" link at the top of the page.

"West Virginians are giving people, and we truly care about those that are less fortunate," Secretary Tennant said. "I don't want anyone in this state to get scammed by a fraudulent charity that is trying to take advantage of that generosity. There are a lot of ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a fraudulent charity, and the best of them is to just ask a lot of questions. The honest charities will be able to tell you how they're going to spend your donation, they'll confirm that they're listed on our database and they won't pressure you into giving your credit card number."

Secretary Tennant said citizens should "BEWARE," and watch for these warning signs of a potentially fraudulent charity:

  • Bills or invoices are sent to you even though you never pledged money to the organization.
  • Evasive, vague, or unresponsive answers to specific questions about the charity and how the money is used.
  • Words making up a charity's name that closely resemble a more well-known charity.
  • Allowing you no time to reconsider your pledge; they insist on collecting your money immediate.
  • Refusal to answer questions about where your money will go or refusal to send more information about the charity.
  • Emotional appeals and high pressure tactics to get you to make a quick donation, or they make you feel guilty if you do not wish to contribute.

Secretary Tennant also suggests writing down the exact name of the charity when you are contacted and to ask if the caller is being paid by a fundraising company.

If you think you have been contacted by a fraudulent charity, contact the West Virginia Secretary of State's Charities Division at 304-558 6000.