In the aftermath of the September 11th tragedies, some unscrupulous folks tried to capitalize on a global impulse to help. Unfortunately, extreme emotions can, and often do, interfere with the "alarm bells" that would normally alert us to questionable requests or outright fraud. Those who commit charity fraud rob not only those who give them money, but also any legitimate agency that works to relieve suffering, not to mention those who benefit from legitimate charities.
However, please do not let fear of being taken advantage of deter you from giving to legitimate relief efforts, just let your rational side have its say before you write that check. Look for the red flags of fraud:
Legitimate charities almost never solicit money via chain letters. Any email asking you to forward its message to friends, co-workers, family, and lists you're on is unlikely to be an official outreach of a legitimate charity.
Needs addressed by most charities are ongoing as well as great. Do not be pressured by a solicitor who insists that you give immediately - especially before you've had a chance to review information about the solicitor and his/her request.
Be wary of requests that contain emotional pleas, but few or no specifics on how the money will be used. Don't be afraid to ask.
Be aware that some swindlers have been known to create nearly identical copies of an organization's website, with nearly identical web addresses. Closely examine the website's address or do a search for their website if you aren't sure.
Read e-mail and websites carefully for spelling and grammatical errors before donating. Since professionalism goes a long way to proving legitimacy, most charities ensure they rarely make such errors.
Legitimate charities should be able to provide their non-profit tax I.D. Number. When in doubt, ask for it.
Check to see that the person from whom the request supposedly originates gives his/her full name, title, and employing organization. If possible, check the organization's website to make sure that person occupies the position he or she claims to hold.
Whenever possible, donate directly to the agency you wish to receive your gift. Be wary of solicitors who claim they will forward donations to a well-known organization such as the Red Cross or claim to be collecting on their behalf.
Do not respond to email asking you for your password, your social security number, or billing/account information for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or financial institution. ISP's and banks do not solicit information in this way. If you receive email or a telephone call asking for this or similar information, call the company's customer service number directly.