Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 68 § 28, professional solicitors are required to disclose certain information to those from whom they are requesting a charitable donation: a professional solicitor is required to give the name, address and telephone number of the charitable organization at the time of solicitation and to disclose that he or she is a “paid solicitor.”
A solicitor’s registration with the AGO in no way constitutes an endorsement or approval by the AGO of a solicitor or a campaign. It is a prohibited deceptive practice for a professional solicitor to reference registration with the AGO so as to lead the public to believe otherwise.
When considering donating to a charity through a professional solicitor it is important to consider the following:
- Preying on the natural instinct to want to help in one’s own community, the professional solicitor may lead potential donors to believe that the benefiting organization is a local charity, that a donation will benefit local individuals, and that he or she is a volunteer for the organization, even when this is not the case. Making this type of misrepresentation in a solicitation is unlawful and should be reported to the AGO.
- A professional solicitor is not permitted to use the name of any charitable organization during the course of solicitation unless that charitable organization has given permission for the use of its name.
- “False pledges” are also a common deceptive practice. In response to a solicitation pitch, a potential donor may respond by saying “I’m not sure. Send me something in the mail.” The professional solicitor may follow-up by sending that person a pledge card. A pledge card sent by a professional solicitor for a donation is deemed to be a deceptive practice when an individual has not made the pledge or agreed to a donation.
In general, charitable solicitors are not allowed to mislead prospective donors and cannot misrepresent any material facts. Although it is not necessarily a material misrepresentation for the solicitor to provide a false name when identifying him or herself, it is considered a misrepresentation should the solicitor claim to be a volunteer for the organization when he or she is a paid solicitor.
While the most effective tool in preventing fraud is an educated donating public, the AGO has at its disposal a variety of tools to address these practices. In cases in which there is sufficient evidence of unfair and deceptive conduct, the AGO can file enforcement actions which can result in settlement agreements and fines and collection on the surety bonds required of every solicitor.
The AGO also has the authority to administratively assess civil penalties against professional solicitors who violate certain sections of M.G.L. c. 68. When the AGO receives verifiable information that there are violations of those sections, the AGO may commence the civil penalty process by sending a warning letter to the person(s) engaging in solicitation fraud. If the solicitor fails to provide an appropriate response, civil penalties may be assessed against those persons individually. Under the statute, the civil penalties are up to $500 per day, with a maximum of $25,000. This administrative process is supported by the AGO’s authority to go to court in the event of a failure to pay assessed civil penalties.
The AGO is always interested in receiving reports from the public about seemingly deceptive solicitation calls and what was said during those calls. Instances of deceptive practices may form the basis of a lawsuit or the commencement of a civil penalty process, and our receiving that information is crucial to our enforcement role. To report any material misrepresentations or deceptive practices please submit a complaint via our website. Please see the Professional Solicitor Guide for more information on unfair or deceptive practices.