Attorney General warns public to give wisely when giving to charity

Published 4:08 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

As we gather with friends and family during the holidays, many of us will feel inspired to help others. Making a donation to charity can be an important part of the holidays and a great way to give back to our communities.

With the struggling economy, even more people than usual are in need of help this holiday season. Unfortunately, scammers are very good at taking advantage of a down economy and con artists will try to take advantage of your generosity. Shameless scammers may claim theyre collecting donations for a worthy cause and then pocket your money instead.

Before you decide to give, take the time to learn where your money will go and how it will be used. On average, charities get just 40 percent of the money collected by telemarketers on their behalf. Some telemarketers keep up to 90 percent of the take.

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Under North Carolina law, you have a right to ask what percentage of your donation will benefit the charity and the telemarketer must give you that information in writing within 14 days.

For more detailed financial information about a charity, you can contact the Secretary of States office at 888-830-4989 or or take a look at a charitys financial statements at You can also find out if national charities meet the standards set by the Better Business Bureaus Wise Giving Alliance by visiting

Give some thought to these tips before you give to charity:

Decide what causes matter to you. Take some time to decide what issues matter to you before you give. Think about whether you want to help programs in your local area, to support national charities, or to help people overseas.

Research who to give to. Instead of donating to someone who calls you, research charities to find ones that are doing work you want to support. You can use sites like, and to check out charities.

Give to someone whose work you know. If youve helped out as a volunteer, seen the charitable organizations work first hand or checked out their track record for doing good, youll have a better sense of how they operate and how your donation will help.

Watch out for telemarketing pleas. Think carefully before giving to telemarketers who call on behalf of non-profits, since a large chunk of your gift may go to the for-profit telemarketer. For example, if you wish to support your local police, firefighters or schools, call to ask how you can donate directly to them instead of responding to calls from telemarketers.

Ask how the charity plans to spend your money. Ask for written information about the percentage of your donation that will benefit actual programs instead of marketing efforts. If the charity isnt willing to give you that information, dont give them a contribution.

Know how to spot a fraud. Telemarketers that refuse to answer your questions, offer to pick up your donation or pressure you for a credit card number are usually up to no good. If you suspect telemarketing fraud, let the Attorney Generals Consumer Protection Division know by filling out a complaint online at or calling 877-5-NO-SCAM. Never, ever give out your credit card or bank account number to someone you dont know who calls you.

Watch out for questionable websites and emails. Some scammers use copycat web sites of legitimate charities to try to trick donors. Beware of emails from people you dont know asking you to give. Even if the email looks legitimate, it could be an example of phishing when scam artists send phony emails that use the name and logos of real organizations to try to scam you.

Get the tax facts. Not all contributions to non-profits are tax deductible. Some gifts that appear to be for charity actually benefit for-profit companies. For example, small businesses are often asked to place ads in publications as a way to help worthy causes. However, these magazines may be published by for-profit publishers. Check it out before you give.