Be aware of charity scams in wake of Boston Bombing

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

With the tragedy of the terror attack at the Boston Marathon on April 15, new charity scams are already popping up around the country, taking advantage of potential donors' generosity.

The "Wise Giving Alliance" (Alliance) of the Better Business Bureau identified one charity scam, operating only one day after the explosions, and they anticipate more scams will follow.

"Tragedies inspire people to give," said president and CEO of Alliance, H. Art Taylor, "but tragedies -- whether natural disasters or manmade catastrophes -- also inspire scammers to take advantage of that generosity."

As a result of the new scamming opportunity, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed the following 10 "tips for giving with confidence:"

* Investigate the charity before giving. Never donate to a questionable or poorly managed effort. Trust charities that provide assistance.

* Help keep others from being swept up in the emotion of the event or donating to an organization before thoughtful consideration by spreading the word of wise giving.

* Check the state government registration. Eighty percent of states in the U.S. require all charities to register with a state government agency before asking for charitable gifts. A charity not registered with a state government agency should send up an important red flag for the donor.

* Ensure the organization respects the wishes of the victims and their families by getting permission to use names or pictures. In the wake of the tragedies at Newtown, Conn., and the Colorado shooting, some charities neglected to ask permission for names and photos, and came under reproach from the families.

* Find out if the charity is specific with its intentions for the donated funds. A charity should not be vague or ambiguous about the purpose of the donations. When deciding to donate, ask how the donations will help the victim's families and ensure that the charity identifies when the collected donations will be used.

* If a victim's family sets up an assistance fund, make sure the donations are received and managed by a third person, such as a lawyer, CPA or bank. This precaution ensures the donations will be used for appropriate needs, such as funeral costs, counseling or other related needs.

* When donating online, never donate to unfamiliar websites or open links in text or e-mails. These could be copy-cat websites that will ask for personal information or download harmful viruses onto the devise being used.

* Look for financial transparency. After the donations have been collected, it is imperative for the charity to publish how the money was spent. Many good organizations will post these records on their website.

* Proceed with caution when giving to newly created or established organizations, because, while they may mean well, it is usually more difficult to investigate such an organization and could be poorly managed. A previously established organization will more likely have the knowledge to address the issue quickly and will have a record that can be evaluated.

* Remember that not all charities operating in the wake of this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under the 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors are able to contribute funds to these organizations, but they should keep this fact in mind when contributing donations. Funds that are donor-restricted to assist specific families are not deductible as charitable organizations, even if the recipient is a charity.

For more information on avoiding charity scams, visit www.bbb.org.

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