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BBB: Take Care With Holiday Giving

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With “Giving Tuesday” the unofficial start of the holiday donation season, the Better Business Bureau is out with some advice on making sure your money goes to a trustworthy organization.

Charities in the United States receive about one-third of their annual donations during the holiday season, according to the BBB. But also lurking out there are scammers looking for their ill-gotten piece of the pie. Tammy Ward at the BBB in Pensacola says many of the scams are from the anonymity of cyberspace.

“If you’re not careful about the online giving or where you send you money, you could possibly be giving to somebody that you don’t want to give to,” said Tammy Ward with BBB’s Pensacola office.

Five tips from the BBB’s Wish Giving Alliance are aimed at helping donors give wisely and make the most of their generosity. First up, watch out for name similarities – including dot-com and dot-org on websites.

“One of the most popular ones to try to emulate is the Wounded Warriors Project; others are several charities out there about cancer,” Ward said. “When people are looking, especially online, they’re just looking to make sure they’re giving to that particular charity that they think that they are, and to make sure that the wording is the same.”

Avoid on-the-spot decisions on giving in areas such as outside public locations. Responsible organizations welcome gifts tomorrow as much as today. And building on that advice, be wary of one of the scammers’ favorite tactics: the “guilt trip.” A giving heart and being pruden, says Ward, are not mutually exclusive.

“You just have to be a little bit cautious to who you’re giving to,” said Ward. “Do a little bit of research on the charities that you’re thinking about. Give to the charities that you have an interest in, that really tug at your heart.”

If you are planning to donate, don’t make a snap judgment. Another red flag could be a group’s refusal to disclose information. Ward says their playing it close to the vest should raise concerns.

Other tips include maximizing your gift by checking with your employer about a matching donation; keeping track of where your money goes once donated, and understanding the tax benefits of giving.

A good place to start that legwork is at www.Give.org, where you can get free access to charity reports. Most charities in Florida are required to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – that website is www.freshfromflorida.com. You can also check out www.bbb.org.