Tis The Season For Charity Scams

December 6, 2009

The holiday season is at our doorstep, and appeals from charities will be plentiful.  This should be a time of festivity, and for giving thanks.  Yet, unfortunately, with good deeds come scams, which are being perpetrated by organizations and individuals, who claim to be legitimate charities.  Before you reach into your pocket to lend a helping hand, you should take precautions to prevent becoming a victim of charity fraud.

CONTRIBUTE CAUTIOUSLY AND ASK QUESTIONS – Resist the temptation to give just because an organization claims to be affiliated with the police or firefighters, since this purported affiliation does not guarantee the charity’s legitimacy.  Be sure to call the local police or fire department to verify the fund-raiser’s claim.  Before you agree to give, request that the charity provide you with written information describing the charity and the programs that your donation will support.  Do not assume that a claimed celebrity endorsement is real, or that the celebrity has carefully researched the charity.  Steer clear of high-pressure campaigns that pull on your heartstrings, but offer little information on how your support will be used to help.

IDENTIFY HOW YOUR DOLLARS ARE SPENT – Inquire how your contribution will be used.  It is important to know how much of your donation goes towards helping people versus what goes towards fundraising and administrative expenses.  Request a printed annual report, and make sure that the charity has complied with required federal, state, and local registration laws.  Helpful websites to check-up on a charity include: The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance www.give.org, The American Institute of Philanthropy www.charitywatch.org, and Guidestar www.guidestar.org.  For security and tax record purposes, you should pay by check, and write the official name of the charity on the check.  You should also confirm that your contribution is tax-deductible.  Just because an organization is tax exempt, does not mean that your contribution is tax-deductible.  You can check for approved charities on the Internal Revenue Service Web site at: www.irs.gov, or by calling 1-877-829-5500.

AVOID SCAMS AND REPORT FRAUD – Beware of unknown telephone solicitations, door to door solicitors, and spam e-mails.  Do not divulge your social security number, credit card, bank account, or other personal information. You should also watch out for similar sounding names for charities.  There are many bogus charities using names that sound respectable and familiar as a means of deception.  Avoid charities that promote sweepstakes and guarantee prizes.  You have no obligation to pay for unsolicited merchandise that is sent to you as an inducement to contribute.  Be skeptical of invoices and solicitations thanking you for a pledge that you do not remember making.  Chances are you never made the pledge.  Be leery of chain e-mail charity solicitations.  Many of these chain letters are scams.  Stay away from charities offering to send a courier to collect your donation.  Take time to contemplate your giving objectives before you give.  The need for help will be there tomorrow, and for years to come.  To obtain additional information about a particular charity, or to report abuses, you should contact your local Better Business Bureau and State Attorney General’s Office.

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