The Season of Giving

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Thanksgiving has come and gone, Christmas is almost here and with the end of the year approaching, many folks are looking for tax write-offs. It's during this holiday season that many of us decide to donate. From local food drives to national organizations, it feels good to help others, but how do we know if our donations are really doing any good?

According to the Reno Police Department, Financial Crimes Division, it's the full time job of scam artists to cheat you out of money. Detective Greg Blair says, "Whether it's the holidays or the middle of summer, they'll try to get your money somehow, someway."

Charity scam artists work in a number of different ways. some pose as a legitimate charity, using a fake name, website, or affiliation.

There are also no laws dictating how much money a charity must actually give to its cause. The President of the Better Business Bureau's Northern Nevada Chapter says, "As far as what they're required to give to a program, really there's nothing set in place. Obviously if someone is being deceptive or fraudulent, that's against the law, but if an organization chooses to take 75 cents out of every dollar and apply it to administration and fundraising costs, and only 25 cents goes to the program, there's nothing really out there that says they can't do that."

Tax evasion is another problem with some charitable organizations. Detective Blair says these financial crimes can carry some stiff penalties. "They can spend time in prison and it can be a long time in prison, depending on how much money they take and what they do. Not only can local charges be brought against them, federal charges can be brought against them, through the FBI or Secret Service."

So how do you know if your donation is doing any good? Experts offer a number of different tips:

  • Don't give into pressure
  • Use a check or credit card, not cash
  • Watch out for name confusion
  • Be wary of internet pleas for money
  • Find out what percentage of your donation goes directly to the cause
  • Get as much information as you can

As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. According to Detective Blair, "whether it's charities or scams, or anything, be wary. There's a lot of people out there trying to take your money."

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Better Business Bureau- For Charities and Donors

Charity Navigator- America's Largest Charity Evaluator


Charity Watch