Be careful who you give to — charity scams abound

Kathy Stewart,

WASHINGTON — This time of year you may be bombarded with requests from charities for donations either by mail, email, phone or someone knocking on door.

But be sure to donate wisely, and don’t get scammed.

“If someone calls and says, ‘I’m with the Heart Association of America,’ it may not be the actual American Heart Association,” says Elaine Lidholm, with the Virginia Agriculture and Consumers Services Department.

Lidholm refers to this particular tactic as “sound-alike names.” That’s when people call soliciting money for a charity that sounds a lot like a reputable charity, but isn’t.

She also warns folks not to give into pressure, especially since “scam artists often try to take advantage of people. They take advantage of the spirit of giving. The fact that people are busy.”

If you do decide to give to a charity, do not give cash. Write a check payable directly to the charity and not the individual solicitor. Reputable charities will never ask for checks made out to individual people.

These days, a lot of telephone solicitations are done by professionals who are under contract with a charity, and Lindholm says many of them get a percentage of the donations they bring in.

Because of that, it’s important to ask a solicitor how much of your donation will actually go to the charity — sometimes solicitors keep as much as 90 percent of the donation, which is actually legal.

To make sure the charity you are donating to is legitimate, check with the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs. State law requires all charities to be registered here, so don’t donate to any cause that isn’t properly registered.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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