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Guarding Against Fraud when Making Charitable Donations

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - 7:00am

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi Statue University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about guarding against fraud when making charitable donations.

Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Susan Cosgrove, Mississippi State University Extension area agent. Susan, Mississippi is ranked second in the nation for donating the highest percentage of income each year to charitable giving, but this generosity also makes us a target of thieves during the holiday season. Why do these charitable scams surface during the holidays.

Susan Cosgrove: Well Amy, about one-third of all charitable giving is done during the last quarter of the year. People are inspired by the holiday season and they just like to give back, but with people spending more money, the fraudsters like to jump in.

Amy Myers: Yes, that's really scary. Now, what are the signs of a charity scam? How do we know we might be getting scammed?

Susan Cosgrove: Charities use the phone. They use face-to-face contact, email, social media and mobile devices to solicit and get their donations. Naturally, scammers they sign methods to take advantage of your goodwill. But regardless of how they reach you, you need to avoid any charities that are going to do things like if they refuse to provide detailed information about the charity and how the donation will be used, or if they won't provide proof that the contribution is tax deductible. If they use a name that closely resembles that of a well-known, reputable organization, or if they thank you for a donation, but you don't remember making it.

Using high pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, ask for donations in cash and ask you to wire money. Or, they might offer to send an overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately or guarantee sweepstakes winnings in exchange for contribution.

Amy Myers: Those sound really shady. Can you give us some guidelines regarding how we can donate more safely?

Susan Cosgrove: You need to check your charity. Ask questions before giving. It's a good idea to ask for answers in writing. Avoid those pressure tactics. Take time to evaluate the information. Watch for those same names. A lot of charities do have similar names, and the scam artists do this on purpose. Be careful with the phone calls. Get the name of the person and the exact name of the charity.

Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser. If so, how much of your donation actually goes to the charity? Verify mail solicitations. Be careful if you get something in the mail. Federal law does state that unless you ordered the item, you can keep it without contributing. Always get receipts. It's really best to pay by check or a credit card, but make it payable to the charity, and that's important for tax deductions.

Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Do not provide your credit card number or send a check until you have researched the charity. Remember that all charitable organizations are required to register with the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, and you can contact their office if you have questions at 888-236-6167.

Amy Myers: That's a lot of really good information. Tell me, is there a way that we can search ourselves online maybe by going to the Secretary of State's office online to see if these charities are legitimate when we're approached with these opportunities to donate?

Susan Cosgrove: If you are contacted by someone and you're not really sure if they are a legitimate charitable organization, the Mississippi Secretary of State's office does have the ones registered in Mississippi. You just put in the name of the one who has contacted you, and you will find out if they are registered, or you can call that number 888-236-6167. You can also check charities out at the Better Business Bureau's website as well. Doing this research is very important.

Amy Myers: To find out how to enter these charitable organizations and find out if they're legitimate, we can go to the Secretary of State's office at S-O-S.M-S.G-O-V. Is that correct?

Susan Cosgrove: That's correct.

Amy Myers: And I understand they have a section where you can click on charities and then do a search to see if a charitable organization is legitimate and actually is real. We can also enter the Mississippi Better Business Bureau in our search engine on the internet and find out more information that way. Is that correct?

Susan Cosgrove: That's right.

Amy Myers: Today, we've been speaking with Susan Cosgrove, Extension area agent. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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