Charity Scams

Tax Deduction
Image by Emery Co Photo via Flickr

‘Tis the season to give away your stuff.

As Christmas rolls in, it’s common to see people ringing bells for charity outside of stores, or knocking on doors asking for your help with their pet causes.    Phone and mail solicitations are up.   You’ve got your pockets open and everybody’s hoping for some cash.

Good for you.   Charity is wonderful.

I openly treat charity as the selfish act it truly is.   Donating my time and money to causes I support makes me feel good about myself.  I like feeling good about myself.  The other reasons people give to charity are A) to make people like them, or B) to receive tax deductions.  That’s it. There are 3 possible reasons to donate: to like yourself, to make others like you, or to save some tax money.   I thought about adding guilt to the list, but that is covered by some blend of the first two reasons.

How can you know that the charity you are donating to is worth it?  There are a ton of evil bastards out there trying to cash in on your desire to feel good.  They want your money because rolling around naked in ill-gotten gains is what makes them feel good.  Naked scammers sprawled across my cash isn’t a visual that makes me feel good.

Wait, you say?  People use charities for cons, you ask?  In 2005, The National Arthritis Association was busted for convincing people that it was somehow related to The Arthritis Foundation, when in reality, it was using the money for hookers and blow.  Or something decidedly not arthritis-cure-related.    If a charity sounds like something you know, but isn’t quite there, check into it before you donate.

It’s also common for scammers to run a phone campaign, pretending to be the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or United Way.  Those are all good charities, but they don’t benefit from the good intentions of the victims.   The scammers just want the credit card information. Once they have that, it’s off to Rio for a crazy week of xxxxxx on a xxxxxx with a xxxxxxx for xxxxxx. (Editor’s note:  This is a family-friendly blog.)  Don’t give out your credit card information to anyone over the phone.  Ever.   Tell the caller to send you something in the mail, or promise to visit their website.  But don’t give them the keys to your cash.

How can you avoid funding a Nigerian coup that will surely end in the downfall of the righteous king, causing all of his heirs to email me(as the only trustworthy person in the world) to help move the nation’s fortune out of the country in exchange for a mere 10% of the loot?   I mean, how can you be sure you are donating to a good organization?

The easiest way is to ask the IRS. You can call them at 877-829-5500 or visit their website at http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=96136,00.html to search for charities that have actually filed with the IRS.   Not all charities have filed.  Some state-based nonprofits don’t bother, but you can check with your Secretary of State to verify their status.

Always pay by check or credit card. Cash is untraceable.  If a charity turns out to be a scam, leaving a trail makes it easier to prosecute.

Don’t give in to the guilt-tactics. If a charity is worth giving to today, it will be worth it tomorrow, too.  There’s no rush.  If the solicitor is trying to rush you, it’s probably a scam.

Remember, it’s your money.  Take care of it.

What are your favorite charities?

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  • 4 comments

    Comments

    1. I like this topic. Another thing that a person should be aware of is what percentage of a donation actually goes to the cause they say it is. Even a lot of totally legit charities have a very high overhead and administration fees. There are some websites that explain what charities are better at this than others. If you give to help inner city hungry kids, you want most of that money to go to the kids and not into the pockets of those that administer.

      Please don’t forget local charities either. There is always food shelves across the country that usually feel strapped this time of year. Local Salvation Armies actually do a lot of things locally. Battered women’s shelters and safe houses seem to get busier this time of year. Even your local place of worship can do a lot of good (but don’t give blindly to them). For me, I place a higher degree of importance on the local charities than the world wide ones because it is usually more monetarily effective to help the person in your back yard than across the globe, not saying that they are bad either just a personal point of view.

      • Local charities are good. We don’t give enough locally. Our clothing donations always go to Sharing and Caring Hands, to get distributed to the homeless.

    2. I like the Houston SPCA since they are an open book and volunteering with them showed me proof that they practice what they preach. I’m also a fan of Meals on Wheels but I haven’t checked to see what kind of overhead they have…

      • I donate a ton of time to a local civil rights nonprofit. They have very little overhead. It’s all volunteer labor.

        Our cash donations go to the Red Cross, a local food shelf, and Soldiers’ Angels, mostly. There are a few more tossed in here and there depending on what comes up.

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