Tobie Blanchard, Tucker, Jeanette A. | 1/4/2011 1:11:59 AM
News Release Distributed 12/03/10
The holiday season is a special time for giving – especially to those in need. The economic downturn has created a surge in needy individuals and the charities that aspire to assist them. But scam artist can masquerade as charities with an aim to defraud people of their money, warns LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker.
“We need to be very careful with our charitable gift giving because there are some charities that are fraudulent,” Tucker says.
She offers these tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help you avoid fraud and make the most of your charitable donations this season:
– Donate to recognized charities with a history. Charities that spring up overnight in connection to economic challenges, natural disasters or a news story may disappear just as quickly with your donation. Even if the charity is well-meaning, it may lack the infrastructure to provide much assistance.
– Be suspicious of charities with names that are similar to the names of well-known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations to gain your trust.
– Give directly to the charity, not to paid solicitors who contact you on the charity’s behalf. Some charities hire professional fundraisers who then keep a portion, often a significant amount, of the money they collect. That leaves less money available for good works. Ask whether the person is a paid fundraiser and, if so, what percentage of your donation goes to the charity. If you’re not comfortable with the amount, consider donating to a different organization or sending your gift directly to the charity.
– Guard your personal or financial information – including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers – from solicitors. Scam artists will use this information to commit fraud against you.
– Check out the charity before you donate. You can research it at charity-rating sites, such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org, www.charitynavigator.org, www.charitywatch.org or www.guidestar.org. Keep in mind that many small or local charities may not be included.
– Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check – never the name of the solicitor. You can contribute safely online through many official charity websites. Look for signs that the site is secure – such as a closed padlock on the browser’s status bar – before enter any personal information. When you are asked to provide payment information, the website URL should change from http to shttp or https, which indicates that the transaction is encrypted or secure.
– Ask for identification and written information when you’re approached in person. Written materials could include the name, address and telephone number of the organization, information about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. When in doubt, call the charity to make sure it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.
“The only charity some solicitors are collecting money for may be themselves,” Tucker says.
To file a complaint against a fraudulent charity or business, call the Federal Trade Commission toll-free at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).