Protecting Consumers from Charities Scams

Working with federal and state charities watchdogs across the country, Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced his office is participating in the first-ever International Charity Fraud Awareness Week from October 22-26.

Awareness Week is a coordinated, international campaign to help charities and consumers avoid charity fraud and promote wise-giving. The campaign seeks to educate consumers on how to avoid being victimized by charities scams.

“Scam artists in Pennsylvania are always trying new ploys to cheat people out of their money,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “That includes tricking donors into believing they are giving to a legitimate charity that supports people in need – when in reality it’s a fraud or scam. My team of consumer watchdogs is getting the word out to Pennsylvanians to follow our tips and avoid getting scammed.”

In July, as part of a national crackdown on fraudulent charities, Attorney General Shapiro’s Bureau of Consumer Protection took legal action against several charities operating unlawfully in Pennsylvania.

One action was a lawsuit against Active Duty Support Service, Inc., also known as Hearts2Heros. The lawsuit, filed with the Attorneys General of West Virginia and Virginia, alleged the company made door-to-door sales of care packages to be sent to service members overseas – although the packages went only to locations in the U.S. The solicitors said they were volunteers; they were actually employees, and as little as 25 percent of donors’ contributions were spent on the care packages. The company said the contributions were tax-deductible; they were not. The lawsuit is active and ongoing.

Attorney General Shapiro offered the following tips to help consumers avoid charities scams:


Do Your Research

Search the charity’s name online with words like “complaint” and “scam.”

Use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if your donation is tax-deductible.

Call the Office of Attorney General at 717-783-2853 or get more information online here.

Ask Questions

What are the charity’s website, address, and mission?

How much of your donation will go directly to services, not fundraising?


Be Careful How You Pay

If someone asks you to send cash, wire money, or donate by gift card, don’t do it. That’s how scammers often ask you to pay. It’s safer to pay by credit card or check.

If you’re donating online, check that the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” in the address. This means your financial information is secure.


Watch Out for Scammers’ Tricks

Scammers can spoof caller ID to make their fundraising calls look like they’re from your local area code, a Washington, D.C. area code, or from an organization you know.

Scammers pressure you into donating immediately before you have time to do any research. A legitimate charity will welcome your donation at any time.

A critical component of Charity Fraud Awareness Week is a social media campaign that promotes wise giving tips focused on particular topics of interest each day this week. Today will focus on charitable solicitations made via telemarketing; Wednesday on privacy; Thursday on online giving; and Friday the focus will be on wise-giving. Follow Twitter hashtags #CharityFraudOut or @PAAttorneyGen.

“Giving to legitimate charities in Pennsylvania is altruistic and worthwhile,” Attorney General Shapiro concluded. “Our job is to make sure the scam artists don’t prey on your altruism and take advantage.”