State officials warn against charity imposter scams

Giving season can bring out scammers

A close up shot of a person holding their older iPhone
In this June 22, 2017, file photo, a man uses a smartphone in Tokyo. Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo, File

Many Wisconsinites will donate to charities and nonprofit organizations this holiday season. But not everyone asking for donations, especially online or over the phone, is on the level. State officials are reminding donors of how to spot potential scams.

Federal Trade Commission data shows consumers lost $8.8 billion to scams last year.

An FTC report said about 1 in 5 people lost money to the scams nationwide in 2022. Impostor scams were the most commonly reported type of consumer fraud, accounting for a total of about $2.6 billion.

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“It’s important to thoroughly research a charitable organization before making a contribution,” state Department of Financial Institutions Secretary-designee Cheryll Olson-Collins said in a statement.

Consumers should look for warning signs on websites and social media posts, said Michelle Reinen, administrator of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“Be sure that you’re looking for spelling errors, grammatical problems, punctuation issues or other discrepancies that could signify that this is a scam,” she said.

Reinen said to beware of sites that redirect to make a payment at a different website. She also warned against making donations with cash, cryptocurrency, mobile payment applications or by wiring money.

“It’s nearly impossible to reverse those transactions,” she said. “So we like to encourage people who want to give to use a credit card or write a check directly to the organization.”

Donations made with a credit or debit card can sometimes be reversed if caught quickly enough, she said.

Anyone who may have been a victim of fraud is encouraged to file a complaint through the state’s reporting portal.

“There have been scammers who have been prosecuted successfully,” Reinen said. “So that’s where filing a complaint is so important. Even though consumers may think it’s a lost cause, it is an effort that needs to be taken in order for us to build a healthy case.”

There are many websites that provide information about charitable organizations. Donors can verify if a charitable organization or professional fundraiser is registered with the DFI by searching the Wisconsin registrant database.

“There are thousands of scams and scammers seeking to trick donors out of their charitable gift and personal information,” Olson-Collins said. “Be cautious — don’t feel pressured by emotional appeals or urgent requests for donations. With a little research and a few precautions, donors can help ensure their donations go to organizations that are genuinely serving others.”

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