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When giving, don’t get taken

Editorial

As hard as it is to believe, Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is just around the corner.

As much as this time of year is about family, spirituality, food and celebrations, it’s also the time of year that charities — many of which have been hit by the recession — receive a big portion of their annual contributions. It’s the time, whether because a person is caught up in the enjoyment of the season or is feeling empathy from some of the first chilly days of the season, that thoughts turn to the less fortunate and ways to make their holidays a little brighter.

Unfortunately, it’s also the time when scammers have the best chance of pulling off money-making schemes by playing on a person’s emotions.

That’s a two-fold problem. Not only is the money taken under false pretenses, but those who really need the help don’t receive it because the money has been diverted by scam artists.

But there are ways you can ensure that the money you donate goes to a place where it will help. The Better Business Bureau, which has its BBB Wise Giving Alliance, has some suggestions that donors would do well to consider before writing that check.

First, when making a donation, write a check made out to the organization to which you are contributing. Don’t make the check out to the individual and never give cash.

Second, don’t let a name fool you. Many times scammers will use a name that is similar to the name of a legitimate charitable organization.

Third, check out the organization to which you are contributing. The BBB has a website on which you can look up charities — http://columbusga.bbb.org/Charity-Reviews/ — and information is also available at the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

If you’re solicited by mail, beware of requests that play on your emotions while not providing any information on the organization or what it does. If you receive something that looks like an invoice or if it includes merchandise you have not ordered, those should be red flags. You’re under no obligation to pay for or return merchandise that you didn’t order.

If someone solicits you in person, ask questions and don’t let yourself be rushed into contributing money. As BBB officials note, a legitimate charity will be just as happy getting your donation tomorrow. Get the charity’s full name and address and ask questions about it. If the solicitor is reluctant to discuss it or doesn’t have the answers, those also are red flags.

One suggestion by the BBB, especially in the case of the deluge of mail solicitation we all receive this time of year, is that you go into the holiday season having already decided which charities you will support. Though 80 percent of the funds raised by charities in the United States come from individuals, BBB officials say the organizations know that you can’t financially support every one that asks. Help to the degree that you’re comfortable and don’t feel guilty that you can’t help everyone.

Americans have proven time and again that they are caring and willing to share with those who have less. Taking a little care about who you help can make a world of difference in the lives of those who truly are in need.