SCAM ALERT: Beware of wildfire scams in Colorado

Photo courtesy: MGN

DENVER (KKTV) - The Colorado Secretary of State wants the public to beware of possible charity scams as several wildfires continue to burn across the Centennial State.

As people want to provide help in a number of ways, scammers are trying to take advantage of the tragedies across Colorado.

“Tragedy like this moves people to help,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen scams pop up in these situations. We want to encourage Coloradans in their philanthropic activity, but also help them avoid mistakes and make sure that donations get to the right place.”

According to officials there are nearly a dozen wildfires that have burned more than 170,000 acres across Colorado.

If you want to help, click here to learn more about a partnership between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (COVOAD).

You can also click here to donate to Care and Share, an official fund drive.

Under Colorado law, most charities have to register with the Secretary of State's Office.

According to the state office, if you wish to establish a fund to assist those affected by a tragedy, be especially careful to respect the wishes of the individuals’ family and friends. The law requires that you have written permission to use the names or photographs of any person or organization in your fundraising appeals, so be aware that your well-intentioned efforts could be derailed by harsh criticism from affected parties’ families if you fail to obtain their permission first.

Making a donation tips from the Secretary of State
-Ask for the caller’s registration number with the Secretary of State, and then confirm that the organization is registered and current with its filings at www.checkthecharity.com. Contact the Secretary of State’s Office, if you want to confirm whether an unregistered charity or fundraiser needs to be registered in Colorado.

-If the charity is required to file the federal form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, 990-T, or 990-PF with the IRS, ask to see it. You are also entitled to see a copy of its IRS Application for Tax-Exempt Status and Determination Letter.

-If talking to a paid solicitor, ask what portion of the contribution will be paid to the charity or, if giving directly to a charity, designate your donation to a specific disaster.

-Watch out for charities with names that sound similar to well-known organizations. Sometimes these sound-alike names are simply intended to confuse donors.

-Do not 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.

-Beware of newly formed charitable organizations. These may be formed with the best of intentions, but an existing charity is more likely have the sound management and experience to quickly respond to the situation, and it will have a track record which you can review.

-Call the charity to see if it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

-Verify with local charities any claims that the soliciting charity will support local organizations.

-You cannot deduct contributions earmarked for relief of a particular individual or family, even if they are made to a qualified charitable organization. When you decide to contribute to an individual or family, do not give cash. Contribute by check that is payable to the fund, not to an individual.

-When considering gifts to an individual or family, ask the fundraiser whether there is a trust or deposit account established for their benefit. Contact the banking institution to verify the existence of the account, and check locally to confirm that there really is such a need.

-The fact that a charity has a tax identification number does not necessarily mean your contribution is tax-deductible. Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax-deductible.

-When you decide to contribute to an individual or family, do not give cash. Contribute by check that is payable to the charity or fund, not to an individual, and mail directly to the charity.

-Most relief organizations can deliver assistance more rapidly if they purchase goods near the location of the disaster, so consider sending a check, rather than clothing or supplies.

If you believe that you have been solicited by a fraudulent charity, please file a complaint with the Secretary of State by calling 303-894-2200.