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Avoid bogus charities this holiday season

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Release Date: December 1, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

WASHINGTON, DC—‘Tis the season for many consumers to open their hearts and wallets to a variety of charities. But NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, has issued an alert to consumers that con artists may take advantage of their generosity this time of year with bogus charities posing as legitimate ones.

“It’s that time of year again, when we begin to hear from consumers about crooks’ attempts to take advantage of the holiday giving season for their personal gain,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “If you're thinking of giving to a charity this season, good for you! But be careful -- some scammers out there may be looking to take advantage of your generosity.”

The Washington, DC-based nonprofit advocacy organization collects consumers’ complaints of telemarketing and Internet fraud through NCL’s Fraud Center (www.fraud.org), and anticipates it will soon receive reports of holiday charity scams.

Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about charity scams have become more frequent recently. The volume of complaints to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel system increased by 8.6 percent from 1.23 million in 2008 to 1.33 million in 2009.  While the volume of complaints regarding bogus charitable solicitations remained a small fraction of overall complaints, they were reported much more frequently in 2009, increased by 82.1 percent over the same period (1,908 in 2008 versus 3,474 in 2009).

NCL warns consumers to avoid becoming a statistic this holiday season by doing their homework before giving to an unfamiliar charity. Non-profit tracking Web sites like GuideStar.org and CharityNavigator.org have a free databases with detailed information on many charities.

NCL offers the following tips for the charitable-minded:

  • Research. Local newspapers or television or radio stations often compile lists of reputable charities responding to emergencies. Consider consulting these sources for information on how to give.
  • Be in control of what you give and to whom you give it! Consider setting up a personal charity/giving budget and deciding ahead of time who you want to give to, rather that being pressured into giving on the spur of the moment by a phone or e-mail solicitation. Consider contacting a charity directly on the phone or via the Internet to ensure that your donation is going directly to the charity of your choice.
  • Pay the smartest way. Don't pay in cash, if possible. It is safer to pay by check or credit card. Be sure to get a receipt for any donation for tax purposes.
  • If a charity contacts, you, be cautious. 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 (BBB) Giving Alliance also offers information about national charities. Call 703-276-0100 or go to www.give.org.
  • Get it in writing. Legitimate charities will be happy to provide details about what they do and will never insist that you act immediately.
  • Beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of legitimate, well-known charities
  • Know who you’re talking to. Ask about the caller’s relation to the charity. The caller may be a professional fundraiser, not an employee or a volunteer. Ask what percentage of donations goes to the charity and how much the fundraiser gets.

Consumers can report suspected charity scams to NCL’s Fraud Center at the online complaint form on www.fraud.org.

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About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org