ATLANTA – Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp warns citizens to be wary of potential scams seeking donations for tornado victims. Over the weekend, violent storms devastated the South, leaving many in need of assistance.
“Together, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of these powerful storms, and we all feel the urgent desire to help our neighbors in this time of need,” Kemp said. “Sadly, the circumstances are ripe for bad actors to attempt to defraud members of the public and rob legitimate charities of desperately needed support. I am advising everyone to research entities seeking funds for disaster relief victims to ensure donations are used for the promised charitable purposes.”
Governor Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in the following 16 Georgia counties: Atkinson, Baker, Berrien, Brooks, Calhoun, Clay, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Dougherty, Lowndes, Mitchell, Thomas, Turner, Wilcox and Worth. Citizens can use the steps below as due diligence when researching charities helping affected Georgians:
- Research charities before you contribute. A number of online resources can help you research charities. The Better Business Bureau, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch provide detailed information about non-profit organizations. Also, take time to review the organization’s own website.
- Take the time to make sure that your money is really going to help those in need. Ask how much of your donation will go to the cause. The percentage of your contribution that a charity spends on fundraising activities, employee salaries, or expenses which do not directly support the charity’s stated mission varies greatly by organization.
- Be wary of telephone solicitors asking for contributions. If you are solicited by phone, ask the individual to put the request in writing and provide detailed information and material about the charity and its program. Also, ask if the person conducting the solicitation is a volunteer or a paid fundraiser for that charity.
- Never give your credit card, debit card, or bank account information to a telephone solicitor. Be particularly cautious of couriers willing to rush out to your home or business to pick up your contribution. Avoid sending cash donations. Donate by credit card or check directly to the charity. Do not make payments to individuals. If your contribution exceeds $250, you should receive a letter from the charity confirming its charitable status as well as the amount of your donation.
- If a tax deduction is important to you, make sure the organization has a tax-deductible status with the Internal Revenue Service. “Tax exempt,” “non-profit”, and “tax-deductible” are not synonymous. Only “tax-deductible” means your contribution is deductible on your income tax return. If you contribute to a charity, make sure you get a receipt which shows the amount of your contribution and states that the contribution is tax-deductible. The IRS has a searchable database (“Exempt Organizations Check”) of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.
- Not all organizations with charitable-sounding names are actually charities. Many organizations adopt names confusingly similar to well-known charities. Be sure you know exactly who is asking for your contribution. Sites like Charity Navigator can provide you a list of a charities that have a history of working on massive disasters.
The Charities Division encourages Georgians to contact division staff if they receive suspicious charitable solicitations. To report suspicious activity, call 404-654-6023. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a complaint.
Kemp has been Secretary of State since January 2010. Among the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, the Secretary of State is charged with conducting secure, accessible, and fair elections, the registration of corporations, and the regulation of securities, charities, and professional license holders. For more information about the office, go to www.sos.ga.gov or follow Secretary Kemp on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.