Ellison: ‘Be on the lookout for COVID-19 charity scams’

Published 7:01 am Friday, March 27, 2020

St. Paul — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a warning to Minnesotans to avoid potential charity scams related to COVID-19.

With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising in Minnesota, there is a risk that scammers will try to prey on the generosity of Minnesota donors by tricking them into donating to causes that claim to help COVID-19 patients or to alleviate the strain on overtaxed resources.

Ellison wants Minnesotans to do their homework before they donate, have the tools to make sure that any charity they donate to is legitimate, recognize the signs of a charity scam, and to file a complaint with his office if they believe they have been scammed by a fake COVID-19-related charity.

“Minnesotans are generous people at regular times,” Ellison said in a press release. “At this extraordinary time, we’re more inclined than ever to help others. That’s a noble impulse and the best of who we are, but we also have to be careful. I’m asking every Minnesotan to exercise caution when donating to charitable causes that claim to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. We all want to make sure that our money goes to people who will use it to do right by people, not to line their own pockets.”

Below are some tips from the Attorney General’s Office to donate wisely:

• Don’t be rushed or pressured into making a donation to a nonprofit, charity, or fundraiser related to COVID-19. Never make a donation by money-wire, cash, or gift cards. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook or other social media are legitimate. Instead, do the research yourself. For tips for researching charities before you donate, visit the Attorney General’s “Charities Information for the Public” webpage at www.ag.state.mn.us/Charity/Donors.asp.

• Under Minnesota law, most fundraisers and charitable organizations that solicit donations from Minnesotans are required to register and report each year with the Attorney General’s Office. See if the charity is registered in Minnesota using the Attorney General’s “Search for Charities and Fundraisers” web page at www.ag.state.mn.us/Charity/Search/Default.asp. Although not every charity needs to register, failing to register can be a red flag.

• Look for charities you already know and trust. To be sure that your money is going where you want it to go (and to minimize the chance of any extra fees being taken from your donation), consider donating directly through that charity’s own website instead of through a social media or crowdfunding page.

• Before donating through a social media or crowdfunding page, research the organizer of the campaign, the cause, and how the money will be used to avoid scams, particularly if the webpage sprung up overnight in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

• If a charity claims to help your local community in some way, double-check. Contact the local organization the charity claims to help to make sure that it actually does. If you are donating to people you don’t know, look for specific information about the situation that can be verified.

• If the first time you have heard of a charity is as a result of a telemarketing call, ask questions and do not feel pressured to donate during the call. Many less scrupulous charities use telemarketers and urge you to donate immediately.

• Ask any charity who asks or pressures you to donate questions about how it plans to use your donation. Do not feel obligated to donate to a charity until you are comfortable you know enough to make an informed decision.

Minnesotans may report complaints about potential charity scams to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota). Members of the public may also download a complaint form at www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Complaint.asp and mail the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131.