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Giving to Charity for Holidays? Better Do Your Research

Consumer watchdogs are warning people to do their research before giving to charities this holiday season. (iStockphoto)
Consumer watchdogs are warning people to do their research before giving to charities this holiday season. (iStockphoto)
December 16, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The holiday season is in full swing, and for some it's also a time for giving to the less fortunate. For others, it's a time to take advantage of that giving spirit. Consumer watchdogs are warning people to do their research before donating to charities.

If you get a phone call from a charity, said Jay Haapala, AARP Minnesota outreach director, verify who they are before opening your wallet.

"It's a very common scam that, on the phone or through the mail, con artists are soliciting donations from people - maybe just a small amount, but it adds up," he said, "and charities might not be who they say they are."

Millions of people every year become victims of scams such as this. Haapala said consumers are bilked out of about $20 billion annually. That is likely a conservative estimate, he said, because some people may not report if they have become a victim of a charity scam. Haapala cautioned that seniors are a particularly vulnerable group because they tend to live on fixed incomes, and if they become a victim they might be too embarrassed to speak up.

"There's absolutely value in reporting what happened," he said. "It's important that our leaders, our law-enforcement agencies, even our elected officials, know the scope of this problem."

He said the AARP's Fraud Watch Network is available to help potential victims.

Lisa Jemtrud, director of the Better Business Bureau's Institute for Marketplace Ethics, said seniors and other potential donors also can protect themselves by going to Give.org to search the name of a charity.

"You can find out all sorts of information about the charity itself," she said, "how long it's been operating, and what percentage of the money that they receive goes to the actual people or project in need."

Both Haapala and Jemtrud urged anyone who believes he or she has fallen victim to a scam to call police first.

Information on AARP Holiday Fraud Watch is online at action.aarp.org. Give.org charity information is at give.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN