The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) released information on March 1 urging the public to do their research before sending money to a charity claiming to help those affected by the Russian invasion on Ukraine.
“Scammers see tragedies as a way to line their pockets at the expense of well-meaning citizens,” said Lara Sutherlin, administrator for DATCP’s Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. “Give generously to a charity if you are inclined, but always research an organization before sending money.”
Fake charity schemes will use any available means of soliciting “donations.” They may make their pitch over the phone, by mail, or online. They will often use names and website addresses that are nearly identical to those of major established charities. The public is reminded to pay close attention to the wording in a donation pitch. They should also keep in mind that most legitimate charity websites end in “.org” rather than “.com.”
“We certainly encourage generosity to help the people in Ukraine but caution donors to avoid questionable appeals,” said Michelle Knuese, administrator for DFI’s Division of Corporate and Consumer Services. “With a little research and a few precautions, you can help protect yourself from scammers and make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity.”
Officials also offered tips people could follow as protection from charity scammers. They include watching for social media messages, eMails, or text messages that claim to have exclusive information or photos. Clicking on attachments or links in those communications could expose a personal computer or android phone to malicious software.
In addition, people should avoid donating cash or wiring money to unknown people or organizations, especially if they involve high-pressure pitches. If people are concerned about the legitimacy of a charity, they should do independent research to confirm the operations, instead of using the contact information directly provided. Key points to note are how the funds are administered and if donations are tax-deductible.
For “crowdfunding” websites, people should review the site’s safety and security policies before making a payment. While these sites typically have a number of safeguards in place for users, there is no way to guarantee that the information posted is completely accurate or truthful.
Under Wisconsin state law, most organizations soliciting for charitable donations must register and file an annual report with the DFI. To check if a charity is registered, the public is encouraged to visit the DFI website. Or they can visit national database sites at charitynavigator.org or give.org.