Avoid being victimized by scammers, especially following the horrific mass shooting in Virginia Beach

(Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)
(Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)

VIRGINIA BEACH — It’s been less than a week since a longtime city employee, who resigned earlier that day, killed 12 people at Building 2 of the city’s municipal center. In the days following the shooting, multiple support funds for victims’ families have popped up across social media.

So how can you tell which donation fund will actually give the money to the victims’ families?

“Sadly, scammers often use tragedies like this to set up fake charities where the money collected is pocketed by the scammer,” said Charlotte Gomer, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Mark Herring. “As crowdfunding becomes more popular, it is especially important to research a crowdfunding page to make sure it is legitimate before donating.”

So far, the city of Virginia Beach has only publicly endorsed and partnered with one agency: The United Way of South Hampton Roads. Officials said 100 percent of the funds collected will go to the victims’ families. Click here to donate to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund.

Herring’s office encourages those who wish to donate to other “charities” to take some “common-sense precautions” and use the following tips:

General protocol

  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster.
    • They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
  • Do not be pressured into giving.
    • Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
    • Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible.
    • Just because a “charity” has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Avoid cash donations.
    • Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation.
    • For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
  • Beware of “copy-cat” names that sound like reputable charities.
    • Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.

Crowdfunding sites

  • Check the creator or page owner’s credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
  • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns.
  • Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site’s fraud protection measures.
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.

If contributing over the internet

  • Be sure the website you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate.
    • See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site.
    • Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number.
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate.
  • Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity’s programs and services.
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.

You can verify the charity’s registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs online database here or by calling 804-786-1343.

Think you found a fraudulent organization? Report the charity’s information in the following ways:

Consumer Protection Section

  • Virginia phone: 800-552-9963
  • Richmond phone: 804-786-2042
  • Email: consumer@oag.state.va.us

Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs

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