Holidays bring out the best and the worst in people, with scams multiplying faster than pine needles under your tree. The Better Business Bureau put together a list of scams targeting people over the holidays – here are tips on telling which charities are legit:
As the holidays approach, many people are getting ready to donate to their favorite cause or charity. Historically, individual donations have accounted for well over 80% of the total amount given to charity. However, the recession has had an effect on the amount Americans have been able to give. According to the GivingUSA Foundation, charitable donations in 2008 amounted to $307.65 billion, down 2 percent from 2007.
“This year, in a slowly recovering economy, charitable organizations will continue to struggle to balance an increased demand for their services against flat or shrinking budgets,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. If you’re planning on donating money, gifts or your time before the year ends, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers advice to make sure your contributions have the maximum impact for those in need:
• When in doubt, check it out. When an unfamiliar organization asks you for a donation, don’t give without first gathering details about the charity; the nature of its programs and its use of funds. Both the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org) and the Minnesota Charities Review Council (http://www.smartgivers.org/) provide this information for free and both recommend that at least 65% of the funds charitable organizations receive in donations should go to the programs they offer the public.
• Watch out for cases of mistaken identity. With more than one million charities in the U.S., it’s not surprising that some charity names are quite similar. Sometimes this happens by chance, sometimes on purpose. Because there are occasionally scammers who seek to ‘piggyback’ on the good name of a legitimate charity, it’s important to do the legwork and make sure your donation is going to the intended recipient.
• Don’t accept vague claims. If something is being sold to benefit a charity, be wary of vague statements such as ‘all proceeds go to charity’ or ‘your purchase will benefit a charity.’ Look for a disclosure as to which charity will benefit from the sale and also the actual or estimated amount of the purchase price the charity will receive.
• Think before you give. If you’re solicited at the mall or on the street, don’t be afraid to take a minute to think about your options. Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. Ask if any written information on the charity’s programs and finances are available.
• Don’t be pressured. Never feel pressured to give on the spot. Legitimate charities will welcome your donation tomorrow. If the solicitor pressures you or makes repeat, harassing phone calls, don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbb.org/us/Charity-File-Complaint/
• Watch out for charity fraud. Legitimate charities do not demand donations; they willingly provide requested information about their programs, finances or how donations will be used. They also never insist you provide your credit card number, bank account number or any other personal information.
• Unordered merchandise is free. If a charity sends you greeting cards, address labels or other merchandise with an appeal for donations, you are not obligated to make a donation or pay for the items.
• If you’re uncomfortable with the individual asking you for a donation, consider contacting the charity they represent directly to make a donation.
• Donate toys, food or services. If you’re unable to make a financial donation this year, consider donating food, toys, clothing or other items in demand during the holidays. Volunteering your time is another helpful and much appreciated option.
For more trustworthy information and advice regarding charities, consult the BBB Wise Giving Alliance online at www.bbb.org/charity.