For Immediate Release - January 13, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Offers Tips to Giving Wisely to Earthquake Victims in Haiti

BOSTON - Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office encouraged Massachusetts residents to consider donating to charities and relief funds in the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, but also warned potential donors to protect themselves from fundraising scams claiming to benefit those affected by this week's catastrophe.

"As this tragic situation unfolds in Haiti, we hope that people will consider making donations to charities and relief funds that can help those who have been impacted by this devastating natural disaster," said Attorney General Coakley "There are many wonderful reputable charitable organizations who will surely play a role in assisting the people of Haiti as they recover from this tragedy, but unfortunately there are groups and individuals who may try to take advantage of the situation to profit through fraudulent fundraising schemes. Before making a donation, we encourage people to do a little homework on the charity they are considering donating to, to ensure that their money is going to reputable charities that can best help those in need in Haiti."

All charities and fundraisers operating in Massachusetts are required by law to register with the Attorney General's Office. This requirement also applies to businesses that advertise a portion of their sales will go to earthquake relief. While registration with the Attorney General's Office does not indicate that the office approves or endorses the organization, it does provide the public with valuable information regarding how long the organization has been in existence, its financial condition and its track record of complying with state registration and filing requirements.

To best assure that your donation will be used for its intended purpose, the Attorney General's Office offers the following suggestions:

  • Check to see if the charity is registered and filing with the Attorney General's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division. Registration and filing information can be obtained online at www.mass.gov/ago/charitiesreports or by calling the division at 617-727-2200 x2101. While in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, there may well be unregistered, but otherwise legitimate, charities appealing for funds in Massachusetts, donors should be aware that giving to an unregistered charity increases the risk that your donation may not be used for the intended purpose.
  • Know your charity. Take the time to verify the address, phone number, contact information, and review the website and written material, when possible. Consider a charity's history, purpose, track record and reputation, and never give to a charity you know nothing about. If you have any doubts, well established charities with experience in disaster relief are generally a good choice.
  • In addition to doing research about particular charities, go to websites such as Charitynavigator.org, CharityGuide.org, and BBB.org/charity, where you will find additional information to help you understand a large number of charities. While this tragedy is still unfolding, some of those websites, and others, will in time evaluate and rate the effectiveness of the many charities that will become involved in providing help.
  • Examine your options. Do not feel compelled to give to the first charity you come across. There are a number of established relief organizations already responding to the diverse needs created by the tragedy; in time there may also be legitimate, smaller charities that will emerge to focus on specific populations and communities.
  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion. The hard luck tale is a favorite ploy of a phony operator. A legitimate charity will tell you how it's using your money to address this horrific disaster.
  • Ask lots of questions. How much of the money goes to the charity and how much to a professional fundraiser? Ask who employs the telephone solicitor, if your contribution is tax deductible and what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions that might remain after the victims' needs are addressed.
  • Beware of professional fundraisers who try to make their solicitations sound like they are coming directly from the charity itself or volunteers.
  • Do not pay by cash. Pay by check, and make it out to the charity (use its full name; don't use initials), not the fundraiser. Never give your credit card number to a fundraiser over the telephone. If the fundraiser directly approaches you, ask to see identification. It is best to mail your check directly to the charity.
  • If you are contributing over the Internet, make sure that the website you are visiting belongs to a legitimate, established, and registered charity, and that the website and the charity match. See if other legitimate websites will link to that website. After tragedies of this nature, there are always individuals who will use the Internet to perpetrate fraud, and you should make sure that the website you visit is operated by the charity you want to donate to. Also, you should make sure the site is secure and will offer protection for your credit card number.

Individuals with inquiries or complaints about charitable solicitations should call the Attorney General's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division at 617-727-2200 x2101 or write to:

Office of the Attorney General
Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

For additional information on charitable giving, consult the Attorney General's website: www.mass.gov/ago/charities.

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