Donors, beware!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Iowans are known throughout the land as being understanding and receptive to their fellow man, to charities and to good causes.

However, this warm humanitarianism is too often taken advantage of by outright scams that pocket charitable donations, or by professional fund-raisers that devour as much as 80-90 percent of the donations in "fund-raising expenses."

Fraudulent and questionable charities cheat donors, hurt legitimate charitable organizations that rely on donations, and shortchange people who truly need help.

As part of an on-going program to thwart various soliciting scams, Iowa Attorney General's office issues a series of tips for Iowans (and others!) to protect themselves against charity fraud:

*Ask questions. Reputable charities welcome them. Ask how much of your donation goes for the charitable purpose. Ask if the caller is a professional fund-raiser.

*Ask telephone solicitors to send written information. Check out the charity before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they refuse to send solid information. Check them out at the national Better Business Bureau "wise giving site" at www.give.org.

*Don't be fooled by "look-alike" names. Some scams use names that sound impressive and are designed to resemble well-respected organizations.

*Be very wary of calls from supposed "law enforcement" or "firefighter" charities. Contact your local sheriff or police department to check out claims that a donation "will be used locally." Ask for information in writing before you agree to give. Ask if the caller is a paid professional fund-raiser, and ask how much of your gift will go to the charitable purpose and be used in your community.

*Don't ever give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone to someone you don't know.

*Give directly to a known charity of your choice. That's always the best option. Check your telephone directory for a charity's local office and contact the office.

And remember, if you think you may have been cheated by a fund-raising scheme, write to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Or call 515-281-5926. The Web site is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.