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Column: Use care when giving to charities

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By now, we have all seen the photos of the destruction on the East Coast caused by Hurricane Sandy. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have lost loved ones in the disaster. We also pray that those who suffered major damage to their personal property will have that replaced in a timely manner.

As is the American way, we are quite sure that there are already plans afoot by organizations to help raise money and needed supplies for the many who were in the path of the superstorm.

And we are also sure that there are those who are out there, coming up with ways to pull on America’s heart strings under the guise of helping the victims, but all the while looking to make a fast buck for themselves. It is exactly those types of individuals we hope residents here don’t fall prey to in their want and need to donate money and goods to help the victims.

There are many reputable charities out there who will work to help raise items in the aftermath of this and other disasters. Local churches and, of course, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are all trustworthy organizations that are seeking to help their fellow men and women.

But of course, there are other organizations that aren’t as trustworthy, and it is those type of agencies we all must try to avoid. The best way to do it is to familiarize yourself with the charity or charities in question.

The Federal Trade Commission suggests asking three simple questions of the organization seeking help:

  • Ask for the charity’s name, address, and phone number, and written information about its programs.
  • Ask whether the person contacting you is a professional fundraiser and how much of your contribution will go to fundraising costs.
  • Check the history of the organization with the office that regulates charities in your state. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials.

Legitimate organizations should have no qualms about providing such information to individuals. Those that are untrustworthy won’t provide that information, and that should be a major red flag in your decision-making.

In situations such as this, it is best to trust your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and it is probably best to avoid that type of situation.

While we don’t want to stop your giving, especially to those truly in need, we don’t want you to become a victim looking on those trying to scam individuals for anything they can.

When approached about helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy, or for any other disaster that might come our way, make your decisions with your head and not your heart. It is the only safe way to go.

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