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Scam Central

Red flag warnings about charitable organizations

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Better Business Bureau
September 8, 2011 | 1,132 views | Post a comment

SAN ANTONIO -- As hearts pour out in the heart of Texas, some will donate money, food, bedding and other much needed supplies to the families who lost everything in the historic Central Texas fires. While many are suffering, others will steal those well-intentioned donations and line their own pockets.

Better Business Bureau advises good Samaritans to give their money and items wisely after the recent wildfires that ravished Central Texas.

“Charities do very great things, especially in times of crisis. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people looking to take advantage,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin. “It’s important for people who want to give, to give wisely. Do your homework and make sure your money is going where you want it to -- to the people who need it.”

When looking to donate to a charity, BBB suggests consumers check with the IRS to ensure the organization is registered as a 501(c)(3), ask exactly where their donations will go and choose an organization that has experience in the specific type of relief efforts they are claiming to undertake.

Donors should be especially wary of charities that claim to be associated with law enforcement or firefighters. The Federal Trade Commission cracked down on such organizations in 2009 because of rampant fraud, but the problem continues.

In the state of Texas, any organization claiming affiliation with law enforcement, public safety or veterans is required to register with the state, pay a fee and disclose the amount of money collected that actually goes toward their cause. Many organizations spend a high percentage of their collections on fundraising or administrative costs. Residents can check such organizations out on the Law Enforcement Telephone Solicitation Act database, and call the agency the charity claims to have an affiliation with.

Consumers can also visit www.give.org to view a charity’s complaint history and get more details about the organization before they donate.

When giving to a charity, BBB warns consumers to watch for these red flags:

· Lack of information. Someone soliciting for a charity should know details like the percentage of money that actually goes toward the cause, how long the charity has been doing business and the charity’s full name, address and telephone number. Be wary of solicitors who cannot or will not answer your questions.

· High-pressure sales. Charities are constantly in need of support. If a solicitor is pressuring you to donate immediately without allowing time to research the organization, reconsider your donation.

· Insistence on cash. You should be able to donate using a credit card or check, and get a receipt for your donation. However, do not provide your credit card information to an unsolicited caller. Go “off the call” and contact the organization directly using independently verified contact information.

· Avoidance of U.S. mail. If the organization offers to send a courier, use an overnight delivery service or tells you to wire money, walk away. No legitimate charities will use such means.

· Prizes. Some callers will insist you won a prize in a contest you never entered then solicit a donation. Such calls are always a scam.

· Similar names. Many scammers try to add legitimacy by using a name that is very close to a well-known and respected charity. Check the name closely and make sure you are giving to the right charity.

· Claims of association. Callers may claim their organization is associated with BBB or another trusted organization. Always verify such affiliations before giving money.

To check out a charity or find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.

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