Particularly this time of year, many are feeling more philanthropic than usual and rightfully so. It’s a great thing to think of your fellow man and provide support at a level with which you are comfortable. But con artists prey upon the combination of the holiday season and your heightened sensibilities to try to steal from you. How do we recognize illegitimate charities to avoid being taken?
Ask yourself a few questions…
- How did this giving opportunity come to you? Was it an unsolicited phone call or letter asking for a contribution or is it a charity you know or was recommended to you by someone you trust? If unsolicited either in the mail or on the phone, be wary. You don’t know them, what they will do with your contribution or how much of it actually goes to the cause instead of “administrative” expenses. Know to whom you are giving and make sure you know that your funds will be used honorably.
- Is this a charity you feel compelled to support? There are a large number of great organizations out there and they all need financial support. But does the charity mean something to you? If not, you might pass.
- Is the charity local? Does it serve your community? It’s hard to know much about out-of-town charities and what they truly support. Unless you know of a specific national or state organization and that they are legitimate, consider staying closer to home with your contributions. That way, you might know some of the people involved and feel comfortable your contributions will be used the right way.
- How are they asking you to give? Is it by cash, wire or gift card? Be very careful. In fact, don’t. Any reputable charity will allow you to send a check or use your credit card. Other methods are likely used for scams.
- Is the solicitor being assertive? Are they rushing you to make a decision? That’s another red flag indicating a scam. It’s best to just hang up. Any reputable organization will agree to provide you the information you need to make an informed, thoughtful decision. Rushing you is a scam tactic and should be avoided.
- Also, pay attention to the name. Is it truly the name of a reputable organization or does it just sound like it? That’s a trick to take your money.
- Lastly, in the conversation, did they mention that you’ve given before and they want to know if you want to renew? Yet another trick. Be aware of where you’ve contributed in the past and don’t let a scammer convince you you’ve given before.
The Federal Trade Commission has provided a lot of the information herein and has a link to reputable websites that offer reports and ratings on various organizations. You can also search the internet for BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or GuideStar. Any of these can give you good information on charitable organizations so that you can make an informed decision. Also, our Tennessee Secretary of State’s office can provide information on charities registered in Tennessee. You can visit sos.tn.gov/charitable to learn more.
If you feel you’ve been solicited by an illegitimate charity or you think you may have been the victim of a scam, always report that to your local police department then the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint.
Giving is a very personal decision that should be considered carefully. All of us want to know that what we give will go to good use helping those in need. Just be aware that some will try to take advantage of your charitable nature to steal from you. Research the organizations to which you give your hard-earned money to make sure that your values align, that your contributions are going to the cause itself and that you feel it will do some good. Let me add that monetary contributions are not all you can provide. Some organizations need your time and expertise as well. Consider giving that way also. With a little bit of common sense and easy research, you can do a lot of good in your community. Stay financially safe.
Frank Freels, Jr. is the senior vice president, security officer of Volunteer State Bank.