The West Virginia attorney general's office sued three people claiming to be affiliated with the Autism Speaks charity, who sold used laptops for $50 each saying they would benefit a children's camp but then never came through with the computers.
According to the suit filed by West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, William S. Terry and Herbert L. Terry, both of Sandy Hook, Ky., and Vicky Perdue of Proctorville, Ohio, told consumers they had started a charity called Mikayla's Place, allegedly affiliated with Autism Speaks, and were trying to raise money to build a camp for autistic and special-needs children by selling electronics.
The state says most of the people who paid for the laptops never got them, or a refund. The state alleges Mikayla's Place isn't registered in the state and says the three broke consumer protection laws in the marketing and sale of personal computers and other electronic goods.
"Consumers must be wary of anyone who contacts them raising funds for any charitable organization," Attorney General Darrell McGraw said in a statement. West Virginia requires all charities to be registered with the state.
Neither Perdue nor William Terry have listed phone numbers. An automated operator message says the number listed for Herbert Terry is a "nonworking number." A phone number given to TV station WSAZ by Herbert Terry earlier this month for consumers to call for refunds is disconnected. Both the web site and Facebook page for Mikayla's Place are no longer accessible.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says there was 3,474 complaints of fake charity solicitations in 2009. Use the agency's
"charity checklist" to help determine whether a charity is legit or a scam. The FTC says to:
Watch out for charities that start suddenly in connection with a current event or natural disaster. While these may be real charities, they probably don't have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected areas or people.
Contact the state office that regulates charity groups in your state to see if the group is registered.
Ask for written information about the charity. A real charity or fundraiser will send information about the charity's mission, how the donation will be used and proof that the contribution is tax deductible.
Call the charity and ask if the group is aware of a solicitation or fundraiser and has authorized the use of its name. If not, it may be a scam.
Refuse to give in to high-pressure appeals -- legit fundraisers usually don't push for a contribution on the spot.
Don't send or give cash donations. It's best to pay by check -- made to the charity -- for security and tax record reasons.