lady gives at Salvation Army - tips to avoid charity scamsDecember is a big month for charitable giving, for humanitarian and tax reasons. But not every "Will You Give" call or card is legit.

Nationally, complaints about scams are up by 8.6%. The Federal Trade Commission says it received 1.33 million complaints alone in 2009, including 3,474 complaints specifically about charity fraud. Many promise sweepstakes wins, or demand the money overnight.The National Consumers League has five good tips to help you avoid charity scams. These are solid ways to protect yourself from being scammed, and making sure your money goes to a good (and real) cause.
  1. Ask for written documentation. If someone calls and asks for funds, ask them to send you a written request instead, detailing what they do and where the money is going.
  2. Check them out. Non-profits have to file with the government and they will be listed under sites such as Guidestar.org.
  3. Don't pay cash! Instead donate using a check or credit card, which could give you more protection in case something goes wrong.
  4. Be wary of police and firefighter requests. Many organizations claim to raise money for local agencies, but very little money actually gets there. Instead, contact the departments directly to see if they have a fundraiser, usually for families of those killed in the line of duty.
  5. Work through a known organization. Often religious organizations or schools have a regular program they work with, where they know the people and know where the money goes.
For more information check out the National Association of State Charity Officials or the FTC charity fraud page

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