Christmas season scams bilk charities of millions

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    By TERESSA GENETTI-SCOTT

    Americans are more willing to give than they have been in nearly a decade, according the American Association of Fund-raising Counsel.

    In 1997, Americans pulled out their pocket book 7.5 percent more frequently for charitable causes, the largest increase since 1989. About 40 percent of these donations will be made in the last six to eight weeks of the holiday season.

    Unfortunately, many of these donations may not be making it to the needy. Law enforcement experts estimate more than a billion dollars are misused or taken by fraudulent charity solicitors each year.

    In an effort to understand why people give, the American Association of Retired Persons sponsored a survey on charitable donations. The survey, conducted by International Communications Research, included 1,683 people ages 25 and older.

    More than 80 percent of the people surveyed made at least one charitable donation during the last year in response to a phone or mail solicitation. Of those 80 percent more than half, 57 percent, never asked how their donation would be spent.

    Kirsten Ball, state representative for AARP, said too many people have no idea how their money will be spent. She recommends a person check up on a charity before committing to a donation.

    “Some charities may only give 5 percent and 95 percent may be going to administrative costs,” she said.

    Ball said selecting a favorite charity or creating a giving plan for the holiday season is an easy way to avoid charity scams.

    “I recommend they have an annual giving plan. Those with giving plans are less likely to overspend or donate to fraudulent charities,” she said.

    Under the Utah Charitable Solicitations Act, charities are required to register annually with the Department of Commerce, Division of Consumer Protection.

    Francine Giani, the director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, said her department registers about 1,500 charities each year.

    “People are a lot more giving and generous this time of year. Our request is that they take a little time to find out about the charity. Whether solicited by the phone, door, or on the Internet, a person needs to find out if the organization is registered,” Giani said.

    Under the act, each paid solicitor must have an information card describing the purposes of the organization and how the collected funds will be used. In addition, if asked, each solicitor must also disclose their permit number and the percent of the contribution that will go to the charitable purpose.

    Giani recommends consumers never give an unfamiliar organization credit card or checking account information. She said a person should never send cash or make checks out to individuals.

    She also suggests finding out an organization’s goal and whether their plan for reaching this goal is realistic.

    “Ask for additional information to be sent. Make sure you feel comfortable with what your doing,” Giani said.

    Giani said the Division of Consumer Protection has not received any complaints so far, but she recommends consumers still be weary of all solicitors.

    “My personal philosophy is that there are two or three charities that I give to, but consumers need to make that decisions for themselves,” Giani said.

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