A reader: I want to make a donation to a veterans organization in honor of my father, who served in the Korean War. Can you recommend one?
Action Line: The Federal Trade Commission offers these great tips and resources to make sure you are giving wisely:
▪ Recognize that the words “veterans” or “military families” in an organization’s name don’t necessarily mean that veterans or the families of active-duty personnel will benefit from the money you are donating.
▪ Donate to charities with a track record and a history. Scam artists follow the headlines and charities that spring up literally overnight in connection with military conflicts and related news stories may disappear just as quickly – with your donation funding their next move.
▪ Trust your gut – and check your records if you have any doubt about whether you’ve made a pledge or a contribution. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
▪ Check out an organization before donating any money. Some phony charities use names, seals, and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations – or they may claim veteran status themselves as a way to gain your trust.
▪ Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money. Some charities hire professional fundraisers for large-scale mailings, telephone drives, and other solicitations, rather than use their own staff or volunteers.
▪ Call the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations to see whether the charity or fundraising organization has to be registered in your state. If so, check to make sure that the company you’re talking to is registered. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials. The organization also can verify how much of each donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses. You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and GuideStar.
▪ Do not send or give cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to pay by check – made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. If you’re thinking about giving online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some fraudulent sites have forged security icons. If you’re not confident you’re dealing with a legitimate site, consider donating elsewhere.
▪ Ask for a receipt that shows the amount of your contribution, and that it is tax deductible.
▪ Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.