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Check out that charity before you give  

SEATTLE - They're about to start again -- those end-of-the-year charity calls. The people making them are often professional telemarketers, who can be very persuasive.

With a phone pitch, it's hard to know who you're really dealing with and how much of your donation is really going to the charity. Of course, the caller could be a con artist who's just trying to steal your money.

It's not unusual for a telemarketer to keep 90 percent or more of the money raised. I've seen the figures and it's appalling. People who've responded to a pitch and donated $100 actually gave $3 to the charitable cause. Of course, they never knew it.

Here's my advice, based on years of talking to victims of charity scams. If you have any interest in the cause, ask them to send you written material. That will give you time to check them out before you hand over your money.

The following tips are from the National Consumers League's Internet Fraud Watch:

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. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance also offers information about national charities. Call (703) 276-0100 or go to www.give.org

Be cautious about e-mails seeking charitable contributions. Many unsolicited e-mail messages are fraudulent.

Beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of well-known charities.

Ask how donations are used. One of the most important things to consider is how much of your money goes to fundraising and administrative costs, rather than to the charitable work itself.

Be wary of requests to support police or firefighters. Some fraudulent fundraisers claim that donations will benefit police or firefighters, when in fact little or no money goes to them. Contact your local police or fire department to find out if the claims are true and what percentage of donations, if any, they will receive.

By Herb Weisbaum Listen

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