Be careful when donating to charities this holiday season

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection warns consumers to watch for scammers using high-pressure tactics to gather funds through fake charities.

Two state agencies recommend researching charities before making a contribution and be leery of pushy phone and internet requests for payments.

“If you enjoy making donations during the holidays, by all means, give generously…but donate wisely and with your eyes wide open,” said Michelle Reinen, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “Be suspicious of aggressive, out-of-the-blue requests for donations and always take the time to learn more about a charity before making a payment.”

It’s recommended that consumers check with DATCP for reported complaints filed against the organization and verify that the charity is registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).

“When people are considering a donation, they want to make sure that their donation is being put to good use by the charity,” said Mary Ann McCoshen, Administrator of the DFI’s Division of Corporate and Consumer Services. “Potential donors can check out how charities are using donations by looking into their spending levels on the DFI website at www.wdfi.org/CharitableOrganizations.”

Here are some tips for anyone considering making a donation to a charitable organization:

— If contacted by phone, avoid being pressured to make an immediate donation. Don’t hesitate to ask the caller to send you information about the organization and its programs.
— Ask a solicitor to explain the purpose of the organization, what services are provided, how much of the donation goes to fund-raising expenses, whether the donation is tax-deductible, and whether you will be sent a receipt.
— Donate to charities that you trust and are well-established.
— Watch out for “look-alike” sites or imposter websites. Scammers will often use names and websites that are similar to those of better-known, reputable organizations. Watch the spelling of the charity’s name and web address (URL) closely.
— Be wary of unsolicited requests for donations, especially ones received by email or text.
— Criminals know that many people make year-end charitable contributions for tax purposes, so they may take a tax-related angle in pitching their scam.
— Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Write out checks to the name of the organization or use a credit card.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact DATCP online at datcp.wi.gov, call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128, email at datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or visit their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/wiconsumer.

The DFI is available online at www.wdfi.org/CharitableOrganizations, by phone at 800-452-3328, or by email at DFISecretary@wisconsin.gov.

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