End of the year a busy time for charity scammers

As posted on December 9, 2012 on www.ajc.com

By Shelia Poole

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Consumers making end-of-the year donations to nonprofits should beware of scams that target unsuspecting donors.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said many people want to do the right thing by donating to charities, but it also pays to be cautious.

Why is the end of the year so important?

Many people feel generous during the holidays and want to help those in need. It’s also the time when taxpayers rush to make contributions by Dec. 31 to qualify for tax deductions. Consequently, consumers are likely to get more solicitations for donations through email, regular mail and by phone.

According to Charity Navigator, charities — on average — receive 40 percent of their annual contributions from individuals between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“This is really a critical time for most charities,” said Sandra Miniutti, vice president for marketing for the New Jersey-based charity evaluator. She advised consumers to find out as much as they can about a charity and how donations are spent before they contribute.

Experts say consumers should be particularly aware of groups that claim to be helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast. While many are legitimate, some may not be. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 4,000 bogus websites were created to solicit donations or for phishing scams designed to gather personal information off computers. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t know the sender or if something looks odd, avoid opening attachments or links.

The elderly should be especially careful.

Telemarketers seem to “aggressively target the elderly,” Miniutti said. Sometimes, senior citizens get confused and may respond readily to high-pressure tactics.

“Seniors are often available to take the phone call or be at the computer,” said Shawn Conroy, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection. “Obviously, scammers are going to target them.”

He said some seniors may have built up wealth over the years, making them attractive targets. “People will say that older people are from a more trusting generation,” he said.

Conroy also said the holidays might be good time to visit with older relatives and be aware of the types of mail and phone calls they are receiving.

If you’re considering donating to a charity, here are some tips to follow from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office:

  • Check out the charity to make sure it is efficient, ethical and effective. How strong are the organization’s finances? Is the organization transparent? What are the results of its work? How much goes to salaries?
  • There are several online resources that can help, including the Better Business Bureau (www.give.org). Also, review the organization’s own website.
  • Be wary of telephone solicitors asking for contributions. Ask that the individual put his request in writing and provide complete information about the charitable program.
  • Never give your credit card, debit card or bank account information to a telephone solicitor.
  • Some organizations adopt names confusingly similar to well-known charities. Make sure you know exactly who is asking for your contribution.
  • Be skeptical of organizations that list only post office boxes, “PMB” addresses or mail drop suite numbers.