Donors, beware!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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 - especially during our "feel-good" holiday periods - 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.