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Consumers warned about potential aid scams

Atlanta—Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who serves as Georgia’s chief charities regulator, recently offered advice to individuals planning to donate to charities in response to the recent earthquake in Haiti.

“During a time when so many want to help provide for those in need, it is crucial to ensure the consumer’s donations are received by legitimate organizations,” Kemp said. “It is important for individuals to research a charity before donating to verify that the charity is legitimate, that it is in compliance and that their generous gifts are being used for the stated cause.”

Kemp issued the following tips for charitable giving:

 It is important to research charities before you contribute. The percentage of your contribution that a charity spends on fund-raising activities, employee salaries or expenses that do not directly support the charity’s stated mission varies greatly by organization.

 A number of online resources can help you research charities. The Better Business Bureau (give.org) and GuideStar (guidestar.org) provide detailed information about nonprofit organizations. Also, take time to review the organization’s own Web site.

 In addition, many charities must register with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. You can research charities at the Secretary of State’s Web site (sos.georgia.gov/securities).

 Be wary of telephone solicitors asking for contributions. If you are solicited by phone, ask that the individual put their request in writing and provide complete information about the charitable program. Also, ask if the person conducting the solicitation is a volunteer or a paid solicitor.

 Never give your credit card, debit card or bank account information to a telephone solicitor. Also, be particularly cautious of couriers willing to rush out to your home or business to pick up your contribution.

 If a tax deduction is important to you, make sure the organization has a tax deductible “501(c)” status with the IRS. The IRS Web site (irs.gov/charities) has a searchable database of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. Make sure you get a receipt which shows the amount of your contribution and states that the contribution is tax deductible.

 Many charitable solicitors ask for contributions of clothing, other household items and vehicles. IRS rules concerning valuations and receipts have changed significantly in recent years; be sure you understand them completely (irs.gov/charities/contributors).

 Not all organizations with charitable sounding names are actually charities. Many organizations adopt names confusingly similar to well-known charities. Be sure you know exactly who is asking for your contribution.

 Watch out for organizations that use questionable techniques such as sending unordered merchandise or invoices after you have turned them down for a donation. You are under no obligation to pay for or return items received under these circumstances.

Citizens can file a complaint against a charitable organization on the Secretary of State’s Securities and Business Regulation Division Web site: http://www.sos.ga.gov/securities.

Anyone with questions can call the Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities and Business Regulation Division, which oversees charities, at (404) 656-3920.