What is Charity Fraud?

More than likely, you are exposed to a variety of different solicitations urging you to make a financial contributions to a worthy cause.  It could be a volunteer from the Salvation Army taking donations during Christmas or a high school student trying to raise money for a school trip.  Perhaps you're hit with a heartbreaking story via TV commercial, mail or email message.  These proposals are often hard to decline, especially when they involve children or needy individuals who have met ill fate.  While you may be tempted to make a difference, the United State Postal Inspection Service warns against it.  Many individuals and organizations seeking these contributions are attempting the commit fraud, adding you to their long list of victims.  So instead aiding the needy, your money goes right into the hands of a deceptive con artist. 

So how do you avoid being victimized by this type of fraud?  How do you distinguish the real from the fakes?  If you are thinking about making a donation, the best advice is to make yourself familiar with active charity organizations.  For example, the Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society are reputable organizations known to actively seek donations for a worthy cause.  You will find their volunteers out in public or advertising on television.  While they have been used in various fraudulent schemes, these organizations are legitimate and tend to solicit for a genuine cause.     

Let's say you're approached by organization that doesn't strike a bell.  They come soliciting an equally important cause yet don't have the credentials needed to back it up.  In order to elude the crime of charity fraud, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service suggests that you adhere to the following guidelines before making a donation:

Research the organization: When approached by an organization you are not familiar with, or those that bare names similar to known charities, it is very important to conduct a thorough background search.  This can be done by visiting the BBB's (Better Business Bureau's) Wise Giving Alliance website: www.give.org  They can also be contacted at the mailing address below:

BBB Wise Giving Alliance

4200 Wilson Blvd.  STE 800

Arlington, VA 22203

Ask for documentation: If you've never heard of a particular charitable organization, don't be afraid to inquire about documents such as annual reports and financial statements.  You have the right to be suspicious if the organization refuses to provide these documents. 

Make payments to the organization: Upon deciding to make a contribution, ALWAYS make your checks payable to the organization opposed to a particular individual.  You never want to find yourself in a situation where a substantial contribution falls into the hands of a malicious or vengeful volunteer.

Report your suspicions: If you suspect an organization or individual of charity fraud, immediately file a report with your local Postal Inspector or postmaster. This enable authorities to place clamps on the con artists and put an end to their scam. 

While the Postal Inspection Service encourages the act of giving to others, they also caution against making donations to suspicious organizations.  Keep in mind that although many organizations have good intentions, there are a few who operate for the sole purpose of funding a personal cause. 

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