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Front Page » November 11, 2004 » Local News » Fraudulent charities prey on generosity
Published 3,981 days ago

Fraudulent charities prey on generosity

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Carbon County has earned a widely spread reputation for the generosity of local residents. Charitable organizations provide invaluable educational, philanthropic and humane services, fulfilling a crucial role in the county, across Utah and throughout the United States.

But a small number of disreputable groups attempt to and, far too frequently, succeed in taking advantage of people who want to contribute to worthy causes, especially in times of crisis and during the holiday season.

Utah lawmakers adopted the state's charitable solicitations act to protect consumers and legitimate organization. The statute contains several legal mandates.

First, the guidelines specify that charities must register annually with the Utah Department of Commerce's division of consumer protection.

Unless groups are granted exemptions under the law, charities must pay a fee, fill out an application detailing organizational information and activities once per year.

Second, the state law requires all paid solicitors to possess an information card describing the purposes of the organization and exactly how collected monies will be allocated.

Third, the act directs solicitors to disclose permit numbers and the percent of contributions earmarked for charitable purposes upon a consumer's request.

But people residing in Carbon County should be aware that registration is not the same as endorsement, stressed the consumer protection agency. In fact, Utah's statutory guidelines prohibit solicitors from implying that the state endorses or supports an individual charity.

Before deciding to donate, the state consumer protection division cautions local residents to:

•Determine exactly how the charity intends to use the money.

All organizations have overhead costs.

Expenditures depend on the size and nature of a charity along with how long the group has operated. However, some operations pay excessive salaries to executives and solicitors.

Other groups hire professionals or launch expensive campaigns.

When overhead and fundraising costs are high, organizations spend less money on directly supporting charitable causes.

Consumers should request written information, then evaluate a charity's goals, programs and expense percentages before opting to contribute to an organization, advised the state agency.

•Watch charity scam warning signs.

Questionable solicitations tend to appeal to people's emotions or beliefs, but offer little or no information about the organizations.

Carbon County residents should not allow a sad story to become the deciding factor in reaching financial contribution decisions, advised the consumer protection division.

Questionable charities often conduct fundraising efforts under names sounding similar to well-known reputable organizations.

The practice may make people think they are contributing to a nationally recognized charity when they are actually donating to a fake solicitation, warned the state agency.

Questionable groups encourage contributions with sweepstakes offers or free gifts.

People should never feel obligated to donate money in exchange for unsolicited offers or gift, noted the consumer protection office.

Questionable organizations frequently rely on pressure tactics to convince people to contribute on the spot or offer to send a representative to pick up donations immediately.

Legitimate charities accept financial contributions at any time, pointed out the state agency.

Pursuant to Utah law, consumers have the legal right to access accurate solicitation and informational materials, including clear descriptions of a charity's programs and activities.

A direct contact fundraising campaign must identify the group's solicitors and the organization's name along with the charity's programs and activities.

A sales campaign solicitation must identify the benefiting organization, an informational source and the actual or anticipated portion of donations going directly to the charity.

Carbon County residents may report questionable charity campaigns to the state's consumer protection division at 801-530-6601, the Utah Better Business Bureau at 801-487-4656, the Philanthropic Advisory Service at 703-276-0100 or the National Charities Information Bureau at 212-929-6300.

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