A 2016 survey from the AARP Foundation includes some hopeful news: Close to 80 percent of adult Coloradans made a charitable donation in the last year. The not-so-good news? Nearly half of respondents never verify a charity's legitimacy, and 62 percent felt they had been solicited by a fake charity or fundraiser in the last 12 months.
The survey, titled "Listen With Your Heart, Give With Your Head" says that of the 13,000 registered charities in Colorado, some 2,000 are suspended from asking for donations. State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman spoke with CPR News about charity fraud, and guarding against it.
Who is most vulnerable for charity fraud?
"It does seem to happen more often with elderly victims. Sometimes folks will get a call list or find a way to particularly target and reach out to older adults. And we know that our elderly population in Colorado is extremely generous and often trusting, in a way that some of us who are perhaps younger and more computer-savvy are out there doing research on a charity.
"So we want to encourage families to talk to the older adults in their family, and just caution them that if someone calls up and asks for a donation, take down a number and the information. Don't give out credit card information over the phone, but ask someone to help you verify that that's a legitimate charity before making a contribution. Because we don't want folks to give up their personal information and end up having an identity thief get their hands on it."
Forty-six percent of those who give their money never verify the legitimacy of the chariry. That's a pretty high percentage, isn't it?
"It is. We are not only generous, but we are trusting. We found that in this survey that was just completed, 62 percent of the survey respondents said they felt that they had been solicited by a fake charity or a phony fundraiser in the last 12 months.
"But when we asked them where they would go to look for more information about a charity, they really didn't know. They didn't know about the Secretary of State's office and check the charities. So we're really hopeful that the survey results give us an opportunity to educate folks here in Colorado."
What about the larger charities, is there anything to worry about there?
"We hope that we can count on the larger charities that we work with to be complying with the law. And it never hurts for folks to just verify though that that's actually who they're dealing with, particularity if they're responding to a phone call or to an email. Because we have scammers who will set up these sham websites that look very much like a legitimate organization. Folks will click on that and give a donation without realizing it's not truly the American Cancer Society, or the United Way that they're giving to.
"But it is the smaller organizations that I think we really need to encourage people to look at. If they aren't familiar or have never given before, and don't know someone associated with the organization, they really should take the time to go to the Secretary of State's website and look at CheckTheCharity.com. There's a lot of great information there."
What if someone thinks they have been a victim of charity fraud?
"We suggest that if someone thinks they have been the victim of charity fraud, they would call us at the Attorney General's office and make a report. And we also have a website that's called StopFraudColorado.gov. And people can make a complaint on the website if they would rather not make a phone call. But that helps us find the charities that are defrauding folks, so that is extremely helpful to the Attorney General's office in tracking down and prosecuting fraud."
Is there any other advice you would give Coloradans?
"It's wonderful to be giving and to be responsive when they see a need. But things like websites that pop up around a tragedy particularly, or someone's illness, unfortunately those can be opportunities for someone to scam those who have a big heart.
"So just take a little extra time before filling in that form and hitting send, or giving a credit card number out, to be sure that your hard earned money is going where you want it to go. Because we want folks to be generous, we just want them to be well educated and cautious and certain of what they're doing."