Beware of Newtown and other holiday donation scams

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December 19, 2012, 7:55 am

(NECN) - In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the national charity monitoring arm of the Better Business Bureau, cautions donors about potential red flags in fund raising to help Newtown and to be aware of the different circumstances that often emerge in tragedy-related philanthropy.

Paula Fleming, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the BBB, joined "The Morning Show" to share the following guidelines for Newtown donations scams, as well as holiday charity scams.

Newtown donation guideline:

- What charity can one trust?

Look at the appeal carefully; some charities have similar sounding names. Don't be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known organization. Check with your appropriate state government authorities (this is usually a division of the state's office of the attorney general) to verify the charity is registered to solicit in your state. Also, visit the website of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to find out whether a national charity meets the 20 BBB charity standards that address charity governance, finances, fund raising, donor privacy, and other accountability issues.

- How will the charity use my donation?

Ask questions about how your donation will be used. Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes but tell you little about what the charity is doing about the problem it describes so well. For example, if the charity says it's helping the homeless, do they explain how (shelter, food, medical care) and where this is taking place?

- Watch out for statements such as "all proceeds will go to the charity."

This can mean that only the money left after expenses, such as the cost of written materials and fund raising efforts, will go to the charity. These expenses can be high, so check carefully.

- Is my donation tax deductible?

If you want to take a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes, make sure the organization is tax exempt as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A charity appeal will usually include a reference to this. To verify a charity's tax status, access an IRS database of organizations by viewing Publication 78 on the IRS website at Consult your tax advisor for details.

- Can the charity actually use what I'm donating?

All charities welcome the receipt of monetary donations, but some also solicit in-kind donations such as clothing, food, and toys. If you're planning to donate items to a worthy cause, make sure you know the in-kind contributions your charity prefers. For example, a food bank may prefer food items that are not perishable such as canned goods, and a toy drive may be seeking new and not used toys.

- Am I feeling pressured to give?

Don't succumb to pressure to give money on the spot, either immediately over the phone via credit card or by allowing a "runner" to pick up a contribution. Take the time to research the charity fully; the charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.

Holiday charity guideline:

- DON'T succumb to high-pressure, emotional pitches.

Giving on the spot is never necessary. Do your homework first.

- DO check out the charity carefully and be sure it's the right one.

Go to to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

- DON'T assume that the charity wants any item you donate.

Worn out, unusable donated goods cost charities millions of dollars each year because the organization has to bear the cost of tossing the unacceptable donation.

- DO consider easy text-to-give options.

The BBB Mobile Giving Foundation makes it easy to give smaller donations (usually $10) to charities.

Tags: holiday, charity, scams, Better Business Bureau, holiday season, BBB, Paula Fleming, the morning show, Newtown donations, holiday donations, charity scams
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