Tragedies inspire givers, scammers

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:00 am

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston, the Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity monitoring arm of the Better Business Bureau, is cautioning donors about potential red flags.

“Tragedies inspire people to give,” president and CEO of the Wise Giving Alliance H. Art Taylor said in a press release Wednesday. “But tragedies ... also inspire scammers to take advantage of that generosity.”

The BBB alliance offers these tips to help donors avoid scams:

>> The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities providing assistance.

>> Remind friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word.

>> About 40 states require charities to register with a state government agency, usually a division of the state attorney general’s office, before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a red flag.

>> Organizations raising funds should get permission from families before using the victims’ names or photographs. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater and Newtown school victims did not do this and drew criticism from victims’ families.

>> Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. Also ask that the charitable effort identify when the collected funds will be used.

>> Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds, but they may not be set up as charities. Make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the donations are used appropriately, such as paying for funeral costs and counseling.

>> Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

>> After funds are raised for a tragedy, it’s important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites.

>> An established charity will be more likely to have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but not well-managed or difficult to check out.

>> Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt. Contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual or family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

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