1. Be alert to names that sound slightly "off." Same goes for logos.
2. If a group refuses to send you written information, that's a bad sign.
3. If the person soliciting your contribution can't answer basic questions about the organization, be wary.
4. If you receive a thank-you note or an invoice for a contribution you never pledged to make, that's a classic tactic. Don't fall for it.
5. Solicitors who pressure you to give on the spot are not to be trusted. The need will still exist after you've done your homework.
6. Charities that offer to send a courier or private shipper to pick up your contribution may be trying to avoid mail fraud laws.
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
1. What's the full name, address and phone number of the charity?
2. Do you work directly for the charity, or are you a paid fundraiser? If paid, what percentage does your company keep?
3. What will my contribution be used for?
4. Can you send me literature about the charity and a financial statement so I can decide whether to give?
5. Is my contribution tax deductible?
6. Are you a 501(c)(3) organization?
DO YOUR HOMEWORK:
1. Before you give, make sure the charity is registered with your state, if required. Some tiny charities and church groups do not have to register.
2. Also check with one of the private watchdog groups that monitors charities. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance's Web site is www.give.org. You can find the American Institute of Philanthropy at www.charitywatch.org.
3. The state or a watchdog group should be able to tell you if the group is a bona fide 501(c)(3). If not you can check with the IRS by going to www.irs.gov and looking for publication number 78. Or call the IRS customer service number, (877) 829-5500.
4. Make your payment by check or credit card, so there's an independent record of your gift. Never use cash.