NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — When our neighbors are in need, folks in Tennessee don't hesitate to open their hearts and wallets. But these are hard times and it's important to make sure that when you're giving, your donation will really make a difference. And what better time? Because this is Charity Fraud Awareness week. And while there are a lot of really good charities out there that are helping people, there are others that want nothing more than your money.
"This region of the country and especially in the State of Tennessee, we are very warm, giving people. And we want to help those in need," Tennessee's Secretary of State Tre Hargett said.
But Hargett added that there are people out there who try to take advantage of that generous spirit, asking for money for charities that either don't exist or don't give much if any money to the cause.
Hargett said charity fraud in Tennessee is a big problem.
Four years ago, Hargett's office and the Federal Trade Commission shut down several fake charities in Knoxville that claimed to be raising money for cancer.
Regulators found these groups collected millions of dollars from donors but most of that money went to the folks who ran the organizations and their friends and "lavish vacations," but it did not go to cancer patients.
"You know, people have a limited supply of money that they can give. And so the last thing you want is to take some of your hard-earned dollars and give it to an organization that you think is a real organization that will do something positive with it and then realize later on that it wasn’t what you thought it was," Hargett said.
The Secretary of State's Charitable Solicitations Division has all sorts of information on its website to help you determine whether a charity is legitimate and how to make smart choices when you're giving.
"If someone is telling you the only way you can give is to pay cash and you can’t write them a check, or if they can’t seem to tell you what your money is going to be used for, those are probably the big red flags," Hargett shared.
Another good place to look before you give is the Guidestar website. You can look up a charity's tax return known as their 990 to see how much of your donation will go to administrative costs and how much will actually go to the charity's mission.
Hargett said don't be afraid to ask questions before you give, like where the organization is based, how long has it been around and who will benefit from your donation and how.
"Don’t be pressured into giving money. If it is a real viable organization, they’ll take your money tomorrow if you’ve had the chance to do a little research. You don’t have to give on the spot," Hargett offered.
Hargett said the problem with charity fraud is that when people fall victim to it, they are less likely to give again which means legitimate charities and people in need lose out.
If you feel you've been taken by a fake or questionable charity or have seen misleading or deceptive fundraising, the Division of Charitable Solicitations wants to hear from you. You can either call them at 615-741-2555 or contact them through their website.