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Boston Marathon charity scams

Published April 17. 2013 05:05PM

HARRISBURG - In the wake of the terror attack yesterday in Boston, Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today urged all Pennsylvanians to be cautious and prudent with their charitable giving. Reports have already surfaced about questionable charity appeals, many of them on the internet.

"Pennsylvanians are very generous, and they will surely want to help the victims of this terrible crime," said Kane. "As with all charitable giving, it should be done carefully and wisely. You want to be certain your charitable donation gets to the people who need it most."

Kane says you should keep these tips in mind when you are deciding whether to give a donation in circumstances such as these:

1. Give Carefully and Thoughtfully-Check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing valuable assistance.

2. Check State Government RegistrationMany states require charities to register with a state government agency before they solicit for charitable gifts. Pennsylvania is no exception. Check registration at or call 1-800-732-0999 for Pennsylvania charities. If you are a Pennsylvania resident and you are solicited here, then the group should be registered here. If the charity is not registered, that is a significant red flag. If you are looking for Boston-area charities, check the Massachusetts registration at call (617) 727-2200 ext. 2101.

3. Respect Victims and Their Families-Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Already, photographs of children wearing racer numbers are being posted in solicitations for false charities in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings. The Boston Marathon does not allow children to compete.

4. Find Out How Donations Will Be Used-Avoid vague appeals that don't identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims' families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.B

5. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?-Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be aware that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party, such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)

6. Be Wary of Advocacy Organizations-Tragedies that involve violent acts can also generate requests from a variety of political advocacy organizations. Donors may support these efforts as well, but note that most of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

7. Be Wary of Online Appeals-Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information, or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don't assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.B

8. Look for Transparency-If you give a donation after a tragedy, you should follow up and see for yourself how the funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites. You should not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

9. Look for Established Organizations-This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

10. Consider Tax Deductibility-Not all organizations collecting funds to assist in a tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but they should keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General wishes to acknowledge The Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau for their help in compiling this list.

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