Survey finds vulnerability to charity fraud

Staff Report


If you believe you have been a victim of charity fraud, you can file a report at or call 1-800-222-4444. If you would like to speak with an AARP Foundation ElderWatch volunteer call 800.222.4444, option 2.

A recent survey by AARP Foundation ElderWatch found that close to 80 percent of Coloradans 18 and older made a charitable donation in the last 12 months. Though many are giving, the survey also found that most consumers don’t know how to verify a charity’s legitimacy.

“I encourage the many generous people in our state who make charitable contributions to take proper precautions before donating their hard-earned money,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman. “Unfortunately, scam artists sometimes create fake charities to steal from unsuspecting donors. Anyone making a charitable donation in this day and age needs to do their homework and be certain the recipient organization is legitimate.”

A report, “Listen with Your Heart, Give with Your Head,” details an AARP Foundation ElderWatch survey of 1,003 adults in Colorado about their giving behavior, knowledge of legitimate charities/protection measures, concerns and experience with charity fraud and charity regulation/donor protections.

Despite the large amount of donors and generous gifts, 46 percent of donors never verified the legitimacy of where they donated and 64 percent say they didn’t ask the fundraiser how much of their donation goes to the cause.

On a positive note, 49 percent report always doing research about the charity. The survey found a high rate (74 percent) of giving by Colorado adults to a wide range of causes. Top causes mentioned included: human services (52 percent), health (47 percent) and religious (39 percent). Over half (54 percent) of Coloradans who made contributions reported giving over $100 and 28 percent have given between $100 and $500.

“Through this survey, it is clear that Colorado citizens need to be briefed on the resources available to help determine the legitimacy of a charity,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. “Before donating, I urge people to visit to verify if the organization is legally authorized to solicit donations in the state.”

As part of the survey, respondents were asked six true/false questions about evaluating fundraising and charities. The average score of all respondents, who have or have not given, was three correct out of six, which meant 77 percent failed the quiz.

Amy Nofziger of AARP Foundation ElderWatch noted that “Colorado adults are most mistaken or unsure of where in the state professional fundraisers must be registered (with the Secretary of State’s Office) and how to best determine if a charitable organization is one they can trust. Other questions showed a lack of knowledge about money kept by professional fundraisers, the legitimacy of donating via social media, and the charitable-solicitation exemption from the do-not-call list.”

In addition to the lack of research and knowledge about giving, 62 percent of survey respondents believe that they have been solicited by a fake charity or phony fundraiser in the past 12 months. When asked where they should turn if they had concerns about a charity or fundraiser, just 16 percent indicated the correct place, either the Secretary of State or Attorney General’s office, while 28 percent indicated police or law enforcement. A full one-in-five said they were unsure of where to turn for help.

Anyone with a question about the legitimacy of a charity operating in Colorado should visit, where they can view a charity’s detailed filings to get information about the organization’s mission, leadership, tax-exempt status, financial efficiency and the paid solicitors with whom they have contracted. The Secretary of State’s Office also publishes an annual report summarizing the results of all solicitation campaigns run by paid solicitors so citizens can see how much of a donation goes to a charity versus its paid solicitor, and how much of a charity’s overall spending is devoted to program services as compared with fundraising expenses and overhead costs.

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