Consumer office issues charity fraud warning
Major disasters traditionally attract extensive media attention and concerned people at locations throughout the world rally to assist the victims. The majority of disaster relief groups and established charities are reputable organizations. However, Carbon County residents should exercise caution to avoid the fraudulent ploys of disreputable individuals and groups.
State lawmakers implemented the Utah Charitable Solicitations Act to protect consumers and legitimate organizations. The statute requires charities to register annually with the Utah Department of Commerce's division of consumer protection. Unless granted legal exemptions, charities operating in Utah must fill out applications detailing organizational information and pay registration fees.
All paid solicitors must have an information card describing the purposes of the organization and how donated funds will be used, pointed out the consumer protection division. Solicitors must disclose permit numbers and the percentage of contributions going to charitable purposes upon the request of consumers. The law prohibits registered organizations from implying the groups are endorsed or supported by the state.
All organizations have expenses, noted the consumer protection division. The amount of money spent on expenses depends on the size as well as nature of the charity and the length of time the organization has been in operation. Some charities hire professional fundraisers or launch expensive campaigns like variety shows, concerts or sweepstakes. Other groups pay high salaries to executives and solicitors. The more money spent on overhead and fundraising means less money spent on the cause. Utah law requires registered organizations to state the percentage of money that actually goes to the charity on registration applications.
The division of consumer protection urges local residents to remain alert for fundraising practices that frequently signal possible charity scams. The practices include:
Solicitations appealing to consumers' emotions or beliefs while offering little or no information about the actual charity.
Consumers should never be swayed by sad stories until they have all the facts, stressed the state agency.
Groups operating with names similar to well-known organizations.
Similar sounding names do not indicate the group's affiliation with established organization or worthiness of a cause, warned the division of consumer protection.
Sweepstakes offers or free gifts accompanying mailed solicitations.
Consumers should never feel obligated to donate money in return for unsolicited gifts, noted the state agency.
Solicitations pressuring consumers to contribute on the spot or offering to send a representative or bonded courier to homes to pick up donations.
A legitimate charity will accept donations today, tomorrow or a month from now, emphasized the division of consumer protection.
Pursuant to state statute, Utah consumers have the right to accurate solicitations and informational materials, including clear descriptions of the programs and activities funded by financial contributions to charitable organizations.
Direct contact campaigns must identify the group or cause, the solicitors, the solicitors' relationship to the organization and the programs and activities for which the funds are requested.
Solicitations conducted in conjunction with the sale of goods, services, tickets or admissions must identify the benefiting group and the actual or anticipated portion of the sales or admission prices that will go to the cause.
After investigating an organization, local residents should remain in control of the situation and take several precautions when making contributions, noted the state agency. Consumers should never give credit card and checking account information to unfamiliar organizations or send cash donations through the mail. People should write checks payable to the charitable organizations, not the individuals collecting money, and never send contributions to post office box addresses.
For additional information, Carbon County residents may contact the state agency by calling 801-530-6601 or writing to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Heber M. Wells Building, Second Floor, 160 E. 300 South, SM 146704, Salt Lake City, UT 84114.
Local consumers may also contact the Utah Better Business Bureau with questions or concerns by calling 801-487-4657. Written requests for information or complaints regarding charitable organizations may be mailed to the Utah Better Business Bureau, 1588 S. Main Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84116.