The holidays are upon us…time for all charitable people to open their hearts and wallets to charity. Unfortunately, some “charities” aren’t so worthy, preying on kind people and businesses everywhere.
The New York Daily News reports nearly 72% of Americans plan to donate the same amount or more to charity as last year. But the sad fact is — swindlers are afoot. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says complaints about charity scams are up 8.6% this year. What’s more, scam artists are becoming sophisticated, taking advantage of technology to take advantage of us. If this continues, I wonder if scams might have a chilling effect on our goodhearted giving. (I’m less likely to listen to a spiel from an unknown charity because I just don’t want to be scammed. I’ve been hoodwinked before.) But how can you tell the good from the bad?
Here’s some good news: you can be a smart giver and root out the posers! Here are tips to protect you and your business from charity scams:
1. Do some old-fashioned sleuthing. What’s the address of the not-for-profit or nonprofit organization? Phone number? Website? What will they do with your donation? What percentage benefits the needy? Do they have a brochure or literature — something in writing? Most states require registration for charities. Ask for this info, and pursue the answers.
2. Fake charities often try to appear legitimate with a name or logo that sounds or looks similar to a well-respected organization. Research the name of the not-for-profit or nonprofit organization online and see what comes up. Is it really the same organization you were thinking of supporting?
3. Watch out for scam artists using email and fake websites to ask for donations, wreaking havoc through identity theft or malicious viruses. Be on guard for phishing schemes, and don’t click on embedded links or attachments in emails. (Most legitimate charities won’t make initial contact with you by email.)
4. Don’t give cash. It’s smarter to write out a check in the organization’s name and ask for a receipt, especially if you’re planning to claim it as a charitable deduction for your business.
5. Be on your guard against a popular scheme — charities claiming to raise money for local police or firefighter organizations. To support your local emergency services, contact them directly.
6. Be wary of charities raising money following a natural disaster.
7. Be concerned if the organization thanks you for a donation you don’t recall making.
8. Find out how the not-for-profit or nonprofit organization is rated — even some well-known charities aren’t as efficient as they could be. Charity Navigator gives charities a star rating, and the Better Business Bureau’s National Charity Report reviews hundreds of charities.
9. Why wait for a phone solicitation or letter? The Roman philosopher Marcus Anneus Seneca said, “He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.” Decide in advance which charities you’ll support, factor your giving into your budget and approach your favorite charities first. They’ll be grateful for your donation and continuing support.
10. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right about an organization, it probably isn’t. For more tips on avoiding holiday scams, visit theFederal Trade Commission.
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