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Don't Be a Scrooge – or a Stooge! Give Wisely

PHOTO: It's the season of giving, but every year, people are taken in by convincing phone or email pitches to send money to bogus charitable causes, be a smart giver this holiday season.
PHOTO: It's the season of giving, but every year, people are taken in by convincing phone or email pitches to send money to bogus charitable causes, be a smart giver this holiday season.
December 12, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - It's the season of giving, and Utahns are known for their generosity to churches and charities. But every year, people are taken in by convincing phone or email pitches to send money to bogus charitable causes.

This year, disaster relief is a popular ploy.

In Utah, the Division of Consumer Protection requires that anyone asking for donation dollars - even if calling from out of state - have a permit to solicit. Division director Traci Gundersen says the information is posted online at dcp.utah.gov.

"So, go in and see if they're even registered. If they're not, that's a huge red flag. You can see on our website, as well, what the percentage breakdown is - how much of your donation is going to the cause or the program itself versus how much is going to overhead."

For instance, a search of more than three dozen veterans' charities on the site shows the amount that actually goes to the cause ranges from 12 percent to a high of 87 percent.

Consumer protection attorney Beverly Salhanick cites proven sites such as charitynavigator.org for checking out charitable groups. She also suggests a newer resource that uses social media input, greatnonprofits.org.

"It's a social comment site; it's kind of like a Yelp for charities, so you get an impression of what their position is in the community."

Another good choice is guidestar.org.

People don't have to give money, adds Salhanick. Local charities often need good used clothing and housewares, or someone’s time and skills as a volunteer.

Do-it-yourself pre-donation detective work can be a hassle during the hectic holidays. But Gundersen says charitable scams have one thing in common: Even when they're busted, no one gets their money back.

"I mean, it's gone. So, that's why it's so incumbent upon the donor to do their homework before donating to some of these causes. You really need to be aware of who you're giving your money to, because once you've given it, it's gone."

Gundersen's advice is to make donations intentional. Instead of sending money just because you got a phone call or flyer, pick a couple of causes about which you feel strongly, really research the groups that are doing good work in those areas, and give to them.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT