There are many legitimate and worthwhile charities to make a donation to but there are also many scam artists out there who are looking to prey on your kindheartedness. Here are some of the most common ones to avoid:
1. The latest disaster
As soon as a disaster occurs whether it is an earthquake in China, a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a forest fire in Arizona, the scamsters are on alert. You will start to receive email or snail mail solicitations showing the horror of the disaster. These are worthwhile causes but how do you know if your money will help the victims or go into the pocket of some fraudster.
2. The Police and Fireman’s widows and children
Many of these charities appear legitimate and they are purporting to serve a worthwhile purpose. They often pocket all or most of the money and little or nothing goes to the deserving widows and children
3. Holiday Scams
Holidays are just the best time for scammers to tug on our heartstrings. And the most likely place you’ll encounter them is when they rattle a collection box in front of you either as you do your shopping or at your front door.
They may use all kinds of props to fool you, wearing seasonal costumes, dressed in familiar uniforms, wearing badges or carrying some other kind of bogus authorization. Often too, scammers use kids to convince you they’re genuine.
4. Telephone solicitations
How can you possibly know the caller is who they say they are, and why on earth would you give them your credit card number? Be most concerned when they get very aggressive.
5. At your doorstep
There are the sellers at your doorstep often with little children in tow, who show you a charity catalog, take your money and never come back.
What can you do?
First, unless you are positive it is a legitimate charity, don’t give them anything. Often you can make a preliminary test by asking if they are a 501c3 organization. This means that they have received the IRS blessing as a not-for-profit. This is NOT the last word but it is a good start. See the paragraph below for more specifics to look into.
No legitimate charity will object to your looking into their finances and they will often direct you to impartial sources that can vouch for them. A few minutes on the Internet can often yield interesting results. If it is a real charity, you can find out what percentage of the funds collected goes to overhead and what goes to the people you are contributing to. I recently received a call from what sounded like a legitimate charity for widows and orphans of police and firemen. When I looked into the specifics, I found that 92%, yes 92% of the funds the received went to “Overhead”.
Be wary of the high pressure phone solicitation that use scare tactics like: “these could be your children”, “Can’t you help these poor widows whose husband’s died protecting you” or “We will send you an identification card that will show the police you are a contributor”. The last one plays on our desire to get away with something since we think that card will keep us from getting a traffic ticket.
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