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Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Don't open your wallet without knowledge

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 3, 2012 at 6:03 a.m.


The holiday season is widely considered a time for giving. The familiar sound of ringing bells greets us as we enter and leave stores, and bins are set up everywhere for everything from toys to canned food items.

But sometimes it's hard to tell when the people asking for money are real charities or scam artists. Everyone is familiar with the Salvation Army bell ringers and red kettles or the U.S. Marine Corps. Toys for Tots drive, but how can you tell the difference between a new area charity and a scam?

We encourage our readers to investigate charities before giving them money. It can be tempting to give people money just so they will leave you alone. But Alan Bligh, the Better Business Bureau regional director in Corpus Christi, says charities should never make potential donators feel pressured.

"A legitimate charity will be just as happy with your donation tomorrow as they would if you gave that day," Bligh said.

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant agrees. The West Virginia Secretary of State website includes a list of tips to help people identify legitimate charities vs. scams: • Know your charity: Never give to a charity that you know nothing about and that refuses to answer questions about where your money will go.

• Don't yield to pressure: Don't feel as though you must donate immediately.

• Demand identification: Ask for identification from both the solicitor and the charity. If the solicitor refuses, hang up immediately.

• Beware the name game: Be wary of crooked charities that have a name similar to a well-respected charity.

• Be prudent when giving your credit card number: Write a check and use the charity's full name. That way you have a record of the contribution and exactly where your money went.

• When in doubt, do research: Ask for literature about the charity and check online at the Better Business Bureau or charitynavigator.org to see if the group has a file.

To any new charities soliciting donations, we thank you for what you are doing, and we encourage you to make sure you are prepared when asking for money. People will be much more likely to give if you and your volunteers can answer questions quickly and honestly.

Above all, we encourage our readers to be cautious and aware when considering giving to charity. Many groups, whether legitimate or scammers, use the emotional connection of the season to encourage people to give. But we hope our readers will put in the effort to know where their hard-earned money will go before giving.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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