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Beware of donating cash to storefront solicitors
The Office of Secretary of State's Charities Program urges donors to avoid giving cash to charities to reduce fraud, discourage impulse contributions and increase transparency.
In recent months, the Charities Program has received reports from donors and "insiders" alleging the blatant theft or misuse of cash donations collected in storefronts around Washington State.
Cash donations may or may not include products sold with a charitable appeal. The Charities Program discourages donors from giving in to pressure to donate cash on the spot and instead encourages donors to "check out" a charity before contributing.
While most storefront solicitors are honest in raising funds for legitimate charities, many are not. Bogus charitable causes and "volunteers" who pay themselves from the cash collected routinely set up shop in front of stores and appeal to the generosity of Washingtonians.
This practice has a fourfold effect:
1. Giving cash on the spot encourages the likelihood of fraud because it could be pocketed by unscrupulous solicitors.
2. Impulse donations undermine a donor's ability to check out a charity thoroughly before giving.
3. Cash that never reaches the charity's bank account is not recorded, which results in inaccurate financial reporting to state and federal agencies and, ultimately, the public.
4. Cash given to bogus charities takes donations away from legitimate causes.
The Office of Secretary of State offers these tips to potential donors:
• Ask the charity to mail you information regarding its program service accomplishments and financial expenditures.
• Take time to research the charity so you know what it is, what it does and how it will spend your donation.
• Ask questions! Legitimate charities welcome your questions.
• Confirm the charity's claims. Ask it to provide proof of program activity. If it's local, pay it a visit. If it is not local, call around. Don't just take the charity's word for it.
• Donate by check so there is a record of your contribution for tax purposes and to prevent fraud.
• Don't give in to high-pressure tactics; a legitimate charity will give you time to conduct research.
Financial information regarding soliciting charities can be obtained from the Office of Secretary of State's Charities Program by using the Charity Search at www.sos.wa.gov/charities or by calling the program directly toll-free at 1-800-332-4483.
Donors are encouraged to report deceptive solicitations and fraudulent activity to the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division at /www.atg.wa.gov/ or by calling 1-800-551-4636.