Help! How do I know if it is Charity or a Scam?

Giving and helping others feels good, but how do you know what is real and what is a scam?

The panhandler on the corner really does look needy, but maybe he just wants to buy cigarettes and booze.

What about the jar at the supermarket checkout that says ‘Please Help Lisa Get a New Kidney’?  In our largely urban society, how do we know if Lisa needs a new kidney?  Maybe she really wants a new Kindle.

The man on the phone says he represents the American City Police League and is raising money for a benefit for officers. It sounds like a good thing, but how do you know he is not just trying to steal your credit card number and go on an internet buying spree?

These are tough questions, in an increasingly complex society.  There are some general guidelines that can help you sort out the real from the fake.  Well-known charities are probably legitimate, as they are closely audited. If someone contacts you asking for money, ask for their literature and check them out with the charity’s headquarters. If it is genuine and you want to donate, go ahead.

If you feel sympathetic toward the kidney victim, find out if there is a trust fund for them at a local bank, and donate through them.  Or contact a local hospital and donate to their general charity fund, making sure it actually goes to pay people’s bills.  To help the panhandlers, donate to a local homeless shelter. These organizations know how to stretch the money to help the most people. If your local church has a program to help the needy, you could donate through them.

After all that, sometimes you just have to take a chance and give. Buy gas for the stranded motorist or antifreeze for the guy with the leaking radiator. Buy food at the airport for the poor family with the flight delay. Give your neighbor a ride to the store. You can’t write it off your taxes, but it sure feels good!