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Charity Scams Increase As Holidays Approach  

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 fundraiser.

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 organizations.

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 your community.

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.

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