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How to spot a bogus charity

Legitimate charitable organizations serve a vital role in our community and deserve our support. But how can you be sure that your donation isn't going into some crook's pocket?

The truth is that not all charities operate with charitable intentions. Some charities are nothing more than scams designed to take your money with phony claims of helping the needy. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to distinguish between legitimate fundraisers and unscrupulous
solicitors who misrepresent themselves and mislead the public in order to line their own pockets.

Not only do con artists try to play on your sympathy, generosity and giving spirit. But their scams also steer money away from real charitable causes and make others less likely to help the legitimately needy and less fortunate.

Here are some warning signs to help you spot a bogus charity: 

  • Be wary of emotional appeals or high-pressure tactics designed to make you feel guilty about not contributing. No legitimate organizations will insist that you contribute immediately. Legitimate charities want you to be sure that you are donating to a worthy cause.

  • Be wary if you get evasive or vague answers to your questions about the charity and how the money is used.

  • Be wary of solicitors who offer to send a courier or "runner" to pick up your donation. This is a sure sign of a scam. Instead, tell the solicitor that you want to think about your decision. Or, you can tell them that you will mail your donation if you decide to give.

  • Be suspicious of solicitors who say they will only accept your donation in cash. This, too, is a likely sign of a scam. Con artists want cash so there will be no paper trail for authorities to follow.

  • Be suspicious of any charity that is unwilling to provide you with its annual report and financial statement.

  • Don't judge a charity based solely on impressive sounding names. Instead, be careful about copycat organizations that use a name that's similar to another well-known charity. Often, this is a ploy by a charity to confuse you and capitalize on the good name of another, better-known organization.

  • Be suspicious if a charity's mailing address isn't a specific office or street address. 

  • Be suspicious if a solicitor guarantees that you'll win a prize if you make a donation.

  • Be suspicious if a caller requests that your check be made payable to an individual rather than a charity or organization.

  • Be suspicious if a solicitor asks for your credit card, bank account or Social Security number or other personal financial information over the phone.

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