October 23, 2006
As we near the end of the year, many people will give generously to
charities and good causes -- but increasingly these donations never
reach the people who need help. Some so-called "charities" are
outright scams that pocket all the funds people contribute.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says even seemingly legitimate
charities use professional fundraisers that eat up 80 to 90 percent
of the donations in "fundraising expenses," so almost nothing is
left for true charity.
"Fraudulent and questionable charities cheat donors, hurt legitimate
charitable organizations that rely on donations - and shortchange
people who truly need help," Miller said.
How to protect yourself from falling for a fraudulent charity?
• Ask questions. Reputable charities welcome questions. Ask how much
of your donation goes for the charitable purpose, and exactly how
your contribution will be used. Ask if the caller is a professional
• Ask phone solicitors to send written information. Check out the
charity before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they refuse to
send solid information. Check them out at the national Better
Business Bureau "wise giving" site - www.give.org.
• Don't be fooled by "look-alike" names. Some scams use names that
sound impressive and are designed to resemble well-respected
• Be very wary of calls from supposed "law enforcement" or
"firefighter" charities. Contact your local sheriff or police
department to check out claims that a donation "will be used
locally." Ask for information in writing before you agree to give.
Ask if the caller is a paid professional fundraiser, and ask how
much of your gift will go to the charitable purpose and be used in
• Don't give your credit card or checking account numbers over the
phone to someone you don't know.
Most foolproof is to give directly to a known charity of your
choice. That's always the best option. Check your telephone
directory for a charity's local office and contact the office.