The Better Business Bureau offers these tips for charitable giving this holiday season–
Many of us will want to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. This is also the time of year when we see an increase in appeals for charitable donations. Unfortunately, the intersection of these events creates a perfect storm for scammers.
Bogus or well-intentioned but ill-prepared appeals from relief organizations spring up after every natural disaster. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies identified hundreds of questionable websites that solicited donations after Hurricane Katrina. The scammers, however, work year-round to separate good-hearted people from their money.
The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission offer the following advice for making charitable contributions:
• Ask for written information about the charity, including the name, address, and telephone number. A legitimate charity or fundraiser will send you information about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
• Contact the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in your state to see if the charity or fundraiser should be and is registered. Check out national charities with the BBB at www.bbb.org.
• Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser.
• Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
• Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return. Even if an organization is tax exempt, your contribution may not be tax deductible.
• Trust your gut – and check your records if you have any doubt about whether you’ve made a pledge or a contribution in the past. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge or contribution you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making it, resist the pressure to give.
• Don’t give cash donations.
Follow these additional tips when responding to requests to help the victims of a disaster:
• Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with current events or natural disasters. Even if their intentions are good, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected areas or people.· Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers in quickly to provide assistance.
• Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid. You may want to consider avoiding the middleman and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region.
• Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs.
• Think carefully about solicitations for clothing, food or other in-kind donations. While well intentioned, they may not be the best way to help those in need.
Article published in the Jackson Sun