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Phony charities

If you have a mail box and a telephone, you probably receive at least one or two solicitations a month asking you to contribute to a charitable organization or other worthy cause. The appeals tend to escalate during the holiday season. 

Many of these requests are legitimate, but it’s always a good idea to be sure before you send any money. Soliciting for phony charities can be a lucrative activity for fraud operators and con artists.

They appeal to the giver's spirit of good will and know that you will assume that they have the same intent.  "Hungry children" are the number one reason cited to give to phony charities followed quickly by people involved in a catastrophe.

Street corner and door to door soliciting are the chief methods of the con.  They are there for a very short time, few people will write out a check, and their con is virtually untraceable.

Here are some tips that can help you distinguish which “charities” may not be the real thing:

  • If you have never heard of the organization that has contacted you, or if it is similar to but not the same as a well-known charitable organization, suggest that the donation request be sent by mail rather than made by telephone, and indicate you’ll be checking the organization out with appropriate authorities. Then if you would like to verify the authenticity of the charity, contact one or more of the following services: 

- The Philanthropic Advisory Service, Council of Better Business Bureaus, 4200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203. 

- Your local Better Business Bureau 

- The National Charities Information Bureau, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.

  • If you know nothing about a charitable organization, ask for its most recent annual report and financial statement. If the person who has called you is not willing to let you have this information, be extremely cautious. 

  • If you decide to make a donation, your check should be made out to the organization, not to an individual. 

  • Do not agree to give cash. Fraudsters prefer cash because it cannot be traced like a check.  

  • Be wary of unfamiliar charities whose addresses are post office boxes. Staff at the post office where the box is located may be able to let you know the name and address of the person or organization renting the box. But companies that rent out private mail boxes may not give you this information.   

  • If you are suspicious of an organization or the motives of someone who has sent you a solicitation, tell your local postmaster or a postal inspector.


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