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Donor Beware

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Giving to a charity is a personal choice. Some unscrupulous charities may use unethical tactics in their fundraising appeals to increase your sense of obligation. Here’s a few smart giving tips to protect yourself from charity scams:

  • Verify the Charity: Whether you give online or off-line, always verify the charity by researching the organization at the Charities Review Council’s online list of reviewed charities to ensure it is a legitimate organization. The online Giving Guide also offers information about the organization, its mission and programs, so that you can be sure of what your money supports.
  • E-mail Scams: If you receive unsolicited e-mail appeals, do not click on links asking for your confidential information such as passwords, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. This fraudulent attempt to acquire sensitive information, otherwise known as "phishing." These attachments may contain viruses that can harm your computer system. Do not open attachments from unsolicited e-mail appeals. Discard these e-mails by hitting the delete key. No reputable organizations will ever e-mail you to verify personal data, so any such e-mails are fraudulent.
  • Phony Web Sites: Look closely at the web address of the charity. Scammers may use Web addresses that appear similar but not exact to the official Web address of an organization to deceive users. The Charities Review Council’s online list of reviewed charities also lists the URL address of organizations as part of their charity review reports with the Charities Review Council.
  • Online Donations: If you donate online, donate through a Web site that is secure. To verify your session is secure, look for “https:” instead of “http:” in the URL address line, as well as the padlock icon on your browser's status bar.
  • Pledges: You are not obligated to pay for a pledge that you did not make.
  • Freebies: You received a gift such as mailing labels, greeting cards, coffee mugs or other thank-you gifts from a charitable organization. Some charities even send a small amount of cash and ask you to “increase” it with a contribution. These tactics usually cost only pennies per mailing. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty for not sending the charity a donation. Remember: it’s illegal for a company to demand payment for merchandise you didn’t order.
  • Privacy: When you send a contribution to a charity, your name is typically added to the organization’s mailing list. To protect your privacy and to limit the number of solicitations you receive, write or call charities directly to inform them that you want to receive only a specific number of solicitations a year. If you would like the charity to stop contacting you, request that your name be removed from its solicitation list by writing to the charity directly.
  • “Badge” Organizations: Be wary of requests to support police or firefighters. These organizations usually hire paid fundraisers who receive up to 80 percent of the funds you donate, while the organization itself receives only a small amount. Your donation isn't tax-deductible with most of the "badge" organizations, and it doesn't support police or fire services.

If in doubt, contact the charity directly before donating, visit the Charities Review Council at www.SmartGivers.org or call (651) 224-7030 (toll free 1-800-733-GIVE). By taking charge and taking steps to protect yourself, you can donate to charity and make a difference with your gift.