Illinois Attorney General investigates improper fundraising

By WEEK Producer

November 25, 2013 Updated Nov 26, 2013 at 12:19 PM CDT

CHICAGO, Ill. – The group behind Facebook's Washington Illinois Tornado Recovery group said they are working with the Attorney General's Office to register as a charitable organization.

In a Friday news release, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her Charitable Trust Bureau received a complaint regarding Heroes Memorial Foundation.

The group's facebook page is mainly informational, but has accepted some donations for tornado relief efforts.

The organization is based out of Florida, and is federally registered. However, Illinois law requires all charitable groups to register with the state annually. 

"We are awaiting the paperwork," said Washington IL Tornado Recovery volunteer David Normal. "We will pay the $215 fee to the state, so that will be all cleared up. Because we are absolutely here for the people of Washington, to help the community, to help everyone we can and do the most we can to benefit everyone."

Norman is a Washington resident. He advises those looking to make a monetary donation to turn to the Red Cross or Salvation Army. 

Attorney General Lisa Madigan is urging residents who want to donate to be cautious in their giving.

"Unfortunately, in the wake of such devastation, we almost always receive reports of questionable fundraising efforts that try to take advantage of people wanting to help," Madigan said. "My office is investigating a complaint, and we will continue to monitor for improper fundraising efforts and possible scams connected to the disaster relief underway.”

To best ensure that your donation will be used for its intended purpose, Madigan suggested the following tips:


- Ask how much of your donation will go to the charity and how much will be used to pay fundraising costs. Solicitors must give you this information if you ask.

- Pay close attention to the name of the charity.  Some fraudulent charities use names that sound or look like those of legitimate organizations to mislead you.

- Ask detailed questions about the charity. Donate only when your questions have been answered and you are certain your money will be used according to your wishes. Ask questions like whether the charity is registered with the Illinois Attorney General's office and what percentage of the money the charity takes in goes to fundraising, administration and charitable programming.

- Do not pay in cash. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Be sure to write the full official name of the charity on your check—do not abbreviate.

- Request written information. A legitimate charity will provide you with information outlining its mission, how your donation will be distributed, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.

- Do not donate if the solicitor uses high-pressure tactics, asks for cash payment or insists on sending someone to pick up your donation. These are all hallmarks of a scam.

- If you receive an email or text message asking for a donation, confirm that the request is from the charity by contacting the charity or visiting its website.

- Do not assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs, or other social media have already been vetted.

The Attorney General's office also advised that donors should be wary of requests for clothing, food or other questionable in-kind donations. Unless the charitable organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Madigan encouraged donors to report suspicious solicitations to her office's Charitable Trust Bureau by calling (312) 814-2595.