CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is encouraging consumers who plan to make donations to charitable causes to evaluate exactly where those dollars will go, and how they will be used.

“With recent stories in the media of people generously donating to causes only to have those causes come into question, it’s important for people to take the time to fully research the charities to which they give,” Morrisey said in a statement. “When disasters strike, good people will step forward to give donations, and sadly, scammers step up to take advantage of them.”

Often, after a natural disaster or other prominent event, charity scams and fraud go into full swing. Within hours, scammers can buy and build websites to make it appear as if your donation is going to a legitimate charity. In some cases, scammers will use fake websites to collect your personal information for identity theft.

Online donation sites and the ability to instantly share fundraising efforts via social media sites make it very easy for people to give. Consumers should follow the following basic rules to protect their personal information and ensure any money donated is going to the right place:

* Don’t respond to e-mail solicitations for donations, especially if they come from a charity you don’t recognize. In some cases, the e-mail may appear to be from a legitimate organization, but links will take you to a bogus site.

* Check the charity’s authorized website. Most charitable organizations have websites that end in “.org,” and not “.com.” Be skeptical of donation sites that ask you to provide detailed personal information, such as your date of birth or Social Security number.

* Be careful of causes that spread only through social media. It’s easy to be moved to action by a sad story or a touching photo, but giving blindly to a cause is never a good idea.

* Take the time to investigate the groups behind the pleas for help. While personal fundraising sites like GoFundMe.com do provide some safeguards to prevent fraud, it’s nearly impossible to verify every campaign.

“West Virginians are known for always coming to the aid of their neighbors and others in times of crisis,” Morrisey said. “With a little bit of research, they can donate securely, and not get burned by the kind of bad people that look to exploit people and situations for personal profit.”

Consumers can verify a charity’s legitimacy in a number of different ways. For instance, websites such as Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, along with the Internal Revenue Service’s search for tax-exempt organizations, can help you make an informed decision.

Morrisey's office ask those who believe they have been a victim of a fraudulent charity or have questions about a charitable organization to call its Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808.

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