Give wisely this holiday season

Nov 26, 2012

For many, donating money to charity is an important part of holiday tradition. But the Christmas season is also a time of year when scam artists are likely to take advantage of that generosity.

According to the N.C. Department of Justice, some telemarketers keep up to 90 percent of the money they collect on behalf of a charity.

“Under North Carolina law, you have a right to ask what percentage of your donation will benefit the charity and the telemarketer must tell you in writing within 14 days,” said N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper in a recent press release.

Before giving to charity this holiday season, Cooper offers these tips:

  • Decide what causes matter to you. Think about whether you want to help programs in your local area, support national charities, or help people overseas.
  • Do your research. Instead of donating to someone who solicits you, find charities that are doing work you want to support. Use sites such as www.give.org, www.guidestar.org, www.charitynavigator.org and www.charitywatch.org to check out charities.
  • Give to someone whose work you know. If you’ve helped as a volunteer, seen the organization’s work first hand or checked out its track record, you’ll have a better sense of how it operates and how your donation will help.
  • Watch out for telemarketing pleas. Think carefully before giving to telemarketers who call on behalf of non-profits, since a large chunk of your gift may go to the for-profit telemarketer. For example, if you wish to support your local police, firefighters or schools, call to ask how you can donate directly to them instead.
  • Ask how the charity plans to spend your money. Get written information about the percentage of your donation that will benefit actual programs. If the charity isn’t willing to give you that information, don’t give them a contribution.
  • Know how to spot fraud. Telemarketers that refuse to answer your questions, offer to pick up your donation or pressure you for a credit card number are usually up to no good. If you suspect fraud, inform the N.C. Department of Justice by filling out a complaint form online or calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Never give your credit card or bank account number to someone you don’t know.
  • Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, text messages and social networking posts asking you to donate. You have no way of verifying how your money would really be used. The messages may include links to copycat web sites of legitimate charities to try to trick you.
  • Get the tax facts. Not all contributions to nonprofits are tax deductible. For example, small businesses are often asked to place ads in publications as a way to help worthy causes—but these magazines may be published by for‑profit publishers. Check it out before you give.
  • Give of your time, too. Many local nonprofits and charities need volunteers as well as donations. Even if your budget is extra tight this year, you can still donate your time and talents.
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