Follow basic rules when making donations
By TRE HARGETT
Disasters like the tornadoes and floods that have pummeled a large swath of the United States, including parts of Tennessee, have a way of bringing out the best in some people - and the worst in others.
When many people see images of destruction on television or in their local newspapers, they feel called to help the victims. Quite often, their help comes in the form of donations to charitable organizations that are providing assistance to those in need.
Unfortunately, there are also a few unscrupulous people who will try to take advantage of the kindness of others. They set up bogus charities to bilk money from the unsuspecting.
I’m not suggesting that people stop giving money to charities. There are many reputable organizations that do a lot of good work in the communities they serve.
It is wise, however, for people to follow some basic rules when they’re thinking about making a donation.
If a solicitor can’t or won’t give you satisfactory answers to those questions, walk away or hang up the phone. Reputable charities aren’t going to insist that you give money right away. They should be willing to provide you an address where you can send a check.
That’s a really important rule, too: Paying by check is probably the best method when making a charitable contribution. Of course, the check should always be payable to the organization, not an individual, and it’s wise to get a receipt, also.
Paying by check gives you a record of the transaction for tax purposes. If you learn the organization is bogus, you may have an opportunity to stop payment before the check is cashed or deposited.
You should only make contributions by credit card to well-known and highly-trusted organizations to avoid potential problems with identity theft.
But before you make a decision to donate money, it’s a good idea to do some basic research.
If the organization has a website of its own, it can also be a source of useful information for potential donors. Additionally, a quick Internet search may reveal news coverage or consumer reviews of the charity.
If you suspect that you’ve been scammed, report it right away. In Tennessee, the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming has the authority to investigate violations of our law and impose civil penalties against violators. You can get in touch with an investigator from our office by calling (615) 741-2555.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to report suspicious or unscrupulous fundraising tactics to consumer groups like the Better Business Bureau. If you have a problem or suspected problem, reporting it may help someone else from falling victim to the same scam.