How to Avoid Christmas Charity Scams

Every Christmas and, in fact, most of the year, I participate in an assortment of social service projects. I've organized everything from small specific needs programs to citywide disaster recovery efforts. That's not necessarily part of my role as a professional bureaucrat, but more like my self imposed role as a member of the human race. This will sound false and pretentious to some, but I genuinely care about people. There, I said it. Not only that, my friends care about people. My co-workers care about people and even my kids care about people.

Having said all that --

THE GOOD -- 'tis the season to be charitable.

THE BAD -- 'tis the season to be swindled.

Friends, give until it hurts but be very careful where you send your money and who you buy Angel Tree, Santa Cop, or Christmas Wish gifts for. Make sure whatever cause, family, program, or event you contribute to can provide you with accountability.

That's right.

A-C-C-O-U-N-T-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y

I'm sorry to say that Christmas provides the ideal opportunity for tender hearts and deep pockets to be taken advantage of. Sometimes the cost of serving many is being bled by a few. That's just the way it goes. But there's a big fat line between a few crafty people milking the system and a program that is a downright scam or enables exploitation by its ineffectiveness.

Legitimate programs do not object to questions. They know that confidant donors recruit other donors. While you probably don't need to research the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and other familiar programs, the ones closer to your own home may not be so well known. And, people may POSE as Salvation Army or Toys for Tots but have no affiliation with them.

Ask questions. It's pretty much that simple. Never buy a gift, donate money, or "adopt" a child, angel or family without knowing who is asking. See tips below for how to handle organizations, individuals, emails, auctions, door to doors and phone solicitations.

Look the charity up online. Tax deductible charities are listed with the IRS.

Ask to see their Form 990. Charities, with the exception of churches, are required to file a Form 990