The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today reminded consumers to “Investigate Before You Donate,” and avoid fraudulent charitable solicitations, when seeking to donate for victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal this week.
“While we watch the immense suffering in Nepal, New Jerseyans are rightly moved to do whatever they can to help,” Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said. “Superstorm Sandy made it abundantly clear that disasters bring out the best in most of us – but they also bring out opportunities for fraud. Don’t just assume that an attractive-sounding appeal is legitimate. Look closely at any organization or individual who solicits your money.”
The Division is paying close attention to online solicitations related to the earthquake in Nepal, and has noted dozens of new web domain names, mentioning “Nepal” and terms such as “earthquake,” “donate,” “relief,” or similar terms, that were registered during the past few days.
Similarly, during the months of 2012 and 2013 that immediately followed Superstorm Sandy, the Division identified dozens of organizations that had not yet registered with the State as charitable organizations, but that began soliciting donations in New Jersey on behalf of Sandy victims. The Division contacted those organizations to assist them in complying with New Jersey’s charitable registration requirements.
In February 2013, the Division filed suit against an allegedly fraudulent organization, the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (HSRF), and its principals, alleging that they misled the public by diverting donated funds into their personal accounts, falsely claimed donations were tax-deductible when the organization did not have 501(c)(3) status, and operated an unregistered charity, among other violations of New Jersey’s Charitable Registration and Investigations Act, Charities Regulations, and Consumer Fraud Act.
Through a settlement reached in June 2013, a court-appointed Organization Administrator dissolved the organization and distributed its donated funds to registered charities raising money for Sandy victims in New Jersey and New York.
The Division offers the following tips for New Jerseyans who seek to donate for victims of the earthquake that struck Nepal:
- Give to charities you know and trust. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. If a charity is new, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t donate – but learn as much as possible before you decide to entrust the organization with your money.
- Learn about the charity’s stated mission, and find out how, exactly it plans to use your money. Ask for literature and read it. Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.
- Contact Consumer Affairs’ Charities Hotline at 973-504-6215 orwww.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/charities to learn about specific charities. You can confirm whether a charity is registered or is exempt from registration requirements. (Certain religious or educational organizations, and those that raise less than $10,000 in a calendar year, are exempt from the registration requirement).
- The Division’s website will also show the charity’s most recently reported financial information – including the amount of the charity’s annual expenses that went to actual charitable programs, as opposed to fundraising or management expenses.
- Don’t be fooled by a convincing name or professional-looking website. Dishonest charities may use impressive names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
- Don’t succumb to pressure. Don’t let yourself be pressured into giving, and don’t feel you have to contribute on the spot. No legitimate organization will expect you to contribute immediately, even if you have given in the past.
- Ask if the charity uses a professional fundraiser and, if so, what percentage of your contribution will actually go toward relief efforts and how much will be used to pay the fundraiser.
- Beware of unsolicited and phony email notices that claim to be from a charity asking for your credit card information. This scam is called “phishing” and could be used by thieves to commit identity theft. If the charity is unfamiliar to you, check whether the group is registered with Consumer Affairs’ Charities Section. If the organization is registered or you know the organization, call directly to find out if the email notice is valid.
Consumers may obtain information about a charity in several ways. They can ask the charity itself (reputable charities encourage you to do so), or visit the charity’s website.
Consumers can also obtain this information from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Visit the Division’s Charities Registration page; call the Division’s Charities Hotline at 973-504-6215 during regular business hours; or use the Division’s free “New Jersey Charity Search” smartphone app.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.