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Don't be fooled by charity scammers

Americans have always been altruistic, quick to respond to victims' needs and ready to lend a helping hand or much-needed cash. Unfortunately, scam artists know this charitable trait well and often are waiting with a con to cheat both givers and recipients.

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The schemes come through the mail, via telephone and e-mail, and by knocks at the door. While many legitimate organizations, such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, collect for well-deserved and Internal Revenue Service-approved causes, you need to be alert to scam artists.

Here's how to make sure your heartfelt donations go to the right cause:

Don't be rushed. Do not feel pressured to make an immediate commitment -- "deadlines" are a characteristic of a scam. Ask the caller or e-mail sender to provide written information on the charity's programs and finances before you make a contribution decision.

Ask questions. Who does this contribution assist? Does your organization intend to meet immediate or long-term needs of those victimized by this tragedy, or both? How much goes to victims? How much goes to administration? Even newly established charities should have written material available describing their programs, anticipated expenditures and how they will carry out activities.

Get it in writing. Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. Remember, telephone con artists are skilled at sounding believable -- even when they're lying. There's no need to rush to a decision.

Verify. Always make an independent verification of the solicitor's identity before sending a contribution. Call or write the organization's headquarters. Contact your local charity registration office (usually an arm of your state's attorney general's office) or the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance to confirm.

Hang on to your cash. Do not pay with cash. Use a check and make it out to the organization, not the individual collecting the donation.

Be stingy with personal information. Do not give your credit card account information over the telephone or online. Always check out the organization before giving any personal information. This could be a ruse to obtain the card number for illegitimate purposes.

Call the authorities. If you cannot verify an organization or you are suspicious of the solicitation, contact the police or the FBI.

-- Updated: July 9, 2005




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