Look out for phony charities

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Dec. 30, 2012, at 8:11 p.m.

As the end of the year approaches, many of us are thinking about charitable donations. Let’s face facts: Many donations are tax deductible, and many of us need all the deductions we can get.

Of course, the real reason to give is to support a cause that really needs your help. So, make sure when you give, that your money is going where you intend it to go.

That means staying away from nonprofits that may exist more for the benefit of professional fundraisers or overpaid executives than for people that really need help. Unfortunately, there are far too many of these types of “charities” around.

Some are created in response to natural disasters. “Storm chasers,” as they have become known, create websites even before a major storm strikes. The sites contain key words, like “relief,” to attract web searches. They have varying records in their effectiveness in providing real help to those in need after a storm.

The IRS issued reminders earlier this month, after more than 1,000 “relief” websites popped up following Hurricane Sandy:

  1. Give to recognized charities, and beware of sound-alike names (visit the IRS website, www.irs.gov, to find bona fide charities to which contributions are deductible).
  1. Don’t give out your financial or personal information, if you can’t be sure that data won’t be misused.
  1. Don’t give cash. Make donations by check, credit card or some other way that can be documented. And never make out a check in the name of the solicitor.

Scammers may claim to be affiliated with known organizations; sometimes they even use the official logo of a government or relief organization to gain a target’s trust.

Do your own research to be sure you know where your money is going. Keep your scam radar on high: Refuse solicitors who won’t answer questions about their cause; don’t give in to high pressure pitches; and if it’s a telephone solicitation, ask if the caller is a paid solicitor and, if so, what percent of money raised actually goes to the cause. You can always ask that your name be removed from a call list.

Scammers work other angles, too. Some file claims for storm damage that never occurred. Others claim to be doctors and ask for funds “to pay medical bills of injured people.” Once you give in to a phony solicitor, you can bet your name will be shared with other scammers.

Check websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar that rate the effectiveness of charities. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance is another resource.

In Maine, check with the Charitable Solicitations Program, part of the state’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation; call 624-8525 with questions about licensed solicitors or to file a complaint.

If you suspect someone’s perpetrating disaster fraud, notify the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (toll-free, 866-720-5721). For charity fraud on the web, notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center ( www.ic3.gov), a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

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