Many of us frequently receive solicitations from charities. These solicitations often come by mail, telephone, and e-mail. It is important to do a little research before giving to a charity, as unscrupulous individuals and organizations have been known to take advantage of New Yorkers' generosity.
If approached via e-mail, computer security experts recommend that you do not open the e-mail or any attachments. Some scammers use e-mail messages disguised as charitable solicitations in order to convince recipients to open the message, potentially exposing their computer and any personal information contained on it to unauthorized individuals. If the name of a charity is in the subject line of the e-mail message or the sender's e-mail address, you can perform an Internet search of the name to obtain a phone number to call or an address to which you can write for more information about donating to that particular charity. If the name of the charity is not available without opening the e-mail, experts recommend that you delete it.
Upon contacting a charity, there is certain basic information that you should obtain. First, ask for the full name of the charity. Beware of scammers who create names that sound official, or are very close to those of well-known organizations, to fool people into believing that they are a legitimate charity. Second, if you do not already know, find out its purpose and mission. Ask what your money will be used for. Third, determine how much of your money will be used for administrative expenses (e.g., rent, salaries, etc.) as opposed to supporting the charity's programs. New York State requires that this information be provided, if not immediately, then within fifteen days. Be suspicious if the person you are speaking with does not want to give you this information.
Experts advise against pledging money upon your first contact with a charity with which you are unfamiliar. Do your homework first. Never give your credit card number or personal information to anyone unless you are familiar with the organization. There are several resources available to help you determine if a charity is legitimate. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) maintains a listing of charities that are authorized to receive tax-deductible contributions. It is not all inclusive, but it provides a good starting point. This listing can be searched electronically at http://apps.irs.gov/app/pub78 or you can call the IRS at 1-877-829-5500. In New York, the Attorney General's Charities Bureau is responsible for keeping track of charities operating in the State. You can contact them either to make an inquiry about a charity or if you experience a problem with a charity or feel you may have been taken advantage of. You can reach the Charities Bureau at: (212) 416-8400.
If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, or that you may have been scammed, please report it immediately to the Attorney General's Charities Bureau so they can take prompt action. It is better to be safe than to find out that your money went to a criminal instead of those in need.
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