Donors: Be wary of Sandy Hook charity scams

Posted: December 31, 2012

Star staff report

In the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley wants people to be aware of possible Sandy Hook charity scams.

 

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have been known to target tragedy-related donors.

 

The BBB urges donors to check out charities on Give.org.

 

Here’s some additional advice from the BBB:

 

Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.

 

About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.

 

Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them.

 

 

Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

 

 

Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)

 

 

Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

 

 

 

Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

 

 

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

 

 

This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

 

 

Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

 

Local United Ways work with the community to insure accountability and see that donated fund impact specific needs. In response to the horrific acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School, United Way of Western Connecticut, in partnership with Newtown Savings Bank, has established the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Donations will be used to provide support services to the families and community affected by this tragedy. Online donations can be processed at https://newtown.uwwesternct.org/.

 

 

For additional information, contact the United Way of Western Connecticut at 201-792-5330 or the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley at 540-536-1610.