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W.Va. joins national campaign against fraudulent charities

May 22, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Facing a handful of reporters in front and backed by representatives of a dozen area charities standing behind her, West Virginia's secretary of state on Thursday announced her office's role in a national campaign against fraudulent charities.

Natalie E. Tennant said her office is beefing up its Web site www.wvsos.com to support Operation False Charity 2009, a nationwide crackdown on a practice known as "badge fraud."

Operation False Charity 2009 is aimed at telemarketers who falsely solicit funds on behalf of legitimate charities, especially police, firefighters and veterans groups.

By checking the Web site before they give, West Virginia donors will be able to check the legitimacy of more than 2,500 registered charities in the state, Tennant said at a Thursday morning press conference in front of the Berkeley County Judicial Center.

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Information on the Web site will include how much money was donated to the charity in the last year, how much the charity spent on administrative costs and how much money went to those the charity is supposed to help, Tennant said.

Tennant pledged her office will investigate every complaint it receives on fraudulent charities. She promised zero tolerance.

Four cases of charity fraud were investigated last year, and her office's investigative unit has opened two new cases this year.

"People who run charity scams are taking advantage of the best qualities of West Virginians," she said.

Tennant said 585 charities disbursed more funds in the state than they received from in-state donors, and 803 charities took in more than $30 million in donations from state residents, but disbursed no money in the state. She also said West Virginians contributed $411 million to licensed charities everywhere, and $615 million in nationwide donations were distributed in the Mountain State.

The event was part of a three-day swing through the Eastern Panhandle for Tennant. The swing included stops at the National Conservation Training Center outside Shepherdstown, W.Va.; handing out scholarships to Washington High School students in Charles Town, W.Va.; lunch with Rotarians in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.; guest appearances on two local radio talk shows; and today's commencement for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College graduates.

Tennant began her remarks Thursday by saying how much West Virginians helped their fellow citizens in five southern counties devastated by recent floods.

West Virginia is a state with a sense of "family, community and charity. No one is left alone. We do it by staying connected, by staying together," she said.

The phone number for the secretary of state's office is 304-558-6000.

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