Thursday, July 24, 2014 · 10:40 a.m.
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This New York state neighborhood is one of many destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: MGNOnline)

In light of the recent hurricane, the attorney general and secretary of state warn Tennesseans that many thieves try to take advantage of people who want to help in post-disaster situations.

When natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy strike, the number of ways thieves can take advantage of potential kindness escalates, Attorney General Bob Cooper and Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a prepared statement. 

The two officials encourage Tennesseans to do their homework before making a contribution to any individual or organization claiming to be raising funds or supplies for displaced hurricane victims.

“Every time there is a disaster, Tennesseans always live up to what our state is known for: volunteering,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “We hope everyone who can will help. But be careful that your heartfelt contribution does not end up in some opportunist’s personal bank account.”

The Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, part of Hargett's office, investigates and imposes civil penalties against individuals or groups who engage in fraudulent fundraising activities. 

“We urge everyone who suspects fraudulent activity to call the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming,” Hargett said in a prepared statement. “We want to help ensure that donations made to charitable causes actually reach the people they are intended to help.”

Officials recommend doing the following before donating to any disaster relief organization:

—Make sure the charity is one that you know and trust. If it is a Tennessee charity, you can do this by contacting the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming. 

—If you are contacted to make a donation, make sure you verify the person's identity before giving out a donation.

—Don't give in to the heat of the moment; take time to investigate the charity's legitimacy.

—Find out what percentage goes toward disaster relief before agreeing to donate. Some professional solicitors take the lion's share and donate very little to the organization they claim to represent. 

—Pay with a check or make sure you get a credit card receipt instead of donating cash. That way, you can make certain your charity receives your donation, plus it is useful for tax purposes. Cash can't be traced. 

To view detailed information on how organizations spend their money, click here. Anyone wishing to report suspicious activity can contact the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming at 615-741-2555.

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