Scammers target those wanting to help Gatlinburg fire victims

AP Photo

Scammers are trying to take advantage of people looking to support the Gatlinburg fire victims.

The co-founder of Project 615, a philanthropic T-shirt and apparel company based in Nashville, is investigating a fake website claiming to sell his company’s T-shirt. All of the money Project 615 raises from the shirts goes back to Gatlinburg fire victims, company officials said.

Derek Evans, the co-founder of Project 615, said customers alerted him to the fake site, which claims to sell the shirts. The site claiming to sell the T-shirts went under the name “Smokies strong,” with a lowercase ‘s’ in strong.

Project 615 created the “Heart for the Smokies” shirt. Evans said 100 percent of the profits from the sale of the shirts go directly to the Gatlinburg Relief Fund.

“We just have watched the news and have seen different people lost not only their homes, but also their friends and relatives and we just thought we had to do something to help,” Evans said. “We’re a company that celebrates all of the good of Tennessee and this is the least we can do.”

Since starting the campaign, Evans said the company has raised more than $35,000 for the Gatlinburg Relief Fund.


How to spot a scam

Avoid any charity or fundraiser that:

  • Refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs and how the donations will be used.
  • Won’t provide proof that a contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Uses a name that closely resembles that of a better known, reputable organization.
  • Thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making.
  • Uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to think about it and do your research.
  • Asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money.
  • Offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • Guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. By law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes

Charity checklist

Take the following precautions to make sure your donation benefits the people and organizations you want to help.

  • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address and telephone number.
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online — especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”— is one way to learn about its reputation.
  • Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser is registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  • Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask:
    • The name of the charity he or she represents
    • The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
    • How much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating
    • How much will go to the fundraiser
  • Keep a record of your donations.
  • Make an annual donation plan. That way, you can decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive your donations.
  • Visit this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
  • Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
  • Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check — made payable to the charity — or by credit card.
  • Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash; once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Do not provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.

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