'Tis the season for many consumers to open their hearts and
wallets to a variety of charities. But National Consumers League (NCL), the
nation's oldest consumer advocacy organization, has issued an alert to
consumers that con artists may take advantage of their generosity this time of
year with bogus charities posing as legitimate ones.
"It's that time of year again, when we begin to hear from
consumers about crooks' attempts to take advantage of the holiday giving season
for their personal gain," said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. "If
you're thinking of giving to a charity this season, good for you! But be
careful -- some scammers out there may be looking to take advantage of your
Scam complaints rising
Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about
charity scams have become more frequent recently. The volume of complaints to
the FTC's Consumer Sentinel system increased by
8.6 percent from 1.23 million in 2008 to 1.33 million in 2009.
While the volume of complaints regarding bogus charitable
solicitations remained a small fraction of overall complaints, they were
reported much more frequently in 2009, increased by 82.1 percent over the same
period (1,908 in 2008 versus 3,474 in 2009).
NCL warns consumers to avoid becoming a statistic this
holiday season by doing their homework before giving to an unfamiliar charity.
Non-profit tracking Web sites like GuideStar.org and CharityNavigator.org have a free databases
with detailed information on many charities.
Dodging rip-off artists
NCL offers the following tips for the charitable-minded:
- Research. Local newspapers or television or radio stations often compile lists of reputable charities responding to emergencies. Consider consulting these sources for information on how to give.
- Be in control of what you give and to whom you give it! Consider setting up a personal charity/giving budget and deciding ahead of time to whom you want to give, rather that being pressured into giving on the spur of the moment by a phone or e-mail solicitation. Consider contacting a charity directly on the phone or via the Internet to ensure that your donation is going directly to the charity of your choice.
- Pay the smartest way. Don't pay in cash, if possible. It is safer to pay by check or credit card. Be sure to get a receipt for any donation for tax purposes.
- If a charity contacts, you, be cautious. If you're approached by an unfamiliar charity, check it out. Most states require charities to register with them and file annual reports showing how they use donations. Ask your state or local consumer protection agency how to get this information.
- Get it in writing. Legitimate charities will be happy to provide details about what they do and will never insist that you act immediately.
- Beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of legitimate, well-known charities
- Know to whom you are talking. Ask about the caller's relation to the charity. The caller may be a professional fundraiser, not an employee or a volunteer. Ask what percentage of donations goes to the charity and how much the fundraiser gets.