NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Secretary of State has a warning for anyone thinking about making a donation to help the victims of the East Tennessee fires: beware of the scam artists who often show up when disaster strikes.
Tennesseans are some of the most generous people in the country. And, unfortunately, scam artists know it.
Natural disasters often make people want to dig deep and help. They also draw out those who try to take advantage of this generous spirit.
"When we see disasters like what's happening in East Tennessee impact Tennesseans, we know that the threat is there for folks to come into our state and try to get money from people and say that it's supposed to help victims when it actually won't." explained Adam Ghassemi with the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office.
He said that with tragedies, especially those that get national attention like the fires in East Tennessee, it's more important than ever to make smart decisions when you're giving. And, fortunately, he added, getting the information you need is relatively easy and quick.
The state's Charitable Solicitations website www.sos.tn.gov/charitable allows you to look up a charity's name and find out if they're registered and you can check out the group's most recent tax filings. If you don't find the group here, that's a red flag.
Herbert H. Slatery, the Tennessee Attorney General, recommended, "If you plan to donate, I urge you to do so only to charities you trust. Donating to well-established charities and organizations is the best way to ensure your generosity helps those in need."
And, the Secretary of State's Adam Ghassemi added, "The biggest thing is just becoming an informed consumer." So how else can you do that?
Take your time. Resist pressure to give on the spot. Ask questions and find out who will benefit from your donation and how. Do research and go online to learn what you can about the organization. Avoid giving cash. And always ask for a receipt. And finally, pay close attention to the name of the non-profit. There are many that sound alike.
It can be tempting to reach into your wallet or pull out your checkbook when you see images like the ones we're seeing from Gatlinburg, but if you really want to help, making the effort to check out where your money is going, can really make a difference.
"We hope that no fraudulent companies come to Tennessee to try to scam people out of dollars but the threat is there and we just want people to be ready," Ghassemi stated.
And if you do give money to a group and then have concerns, you can contact the state's Charitable Solicitations office. They have investigators who will look into complaints. And, if they find someone is running a scam, the state can issue a fine and even get the Attorney General's Office involved.