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Recognize the signs of charitable fraud

It's now easier than ever to donate to charity. Prospective donors can now make donations using traditional telephones, computers, tablets and mobile devices, not to mention donating money in person. But if charities can solicit donations via such avenues, it's fair to assume criminals posing as charities can do so as well. To safeguard themselves and their money from perpetuators of charitable fraud, prospective donors should be on the lookout for the following signs.

• Uncooperative solicitor: Representatives of legitimate charities will be forthcoming with detailed information about their organizations, readily answering questions about the charity's name, mission, organizational structure and cost, and donation allocation. Criminals posing as charities may be less forthcoming with such information because their organizations are not real. When solicited by someone who claims to represent a charitable organization, insist they answer all of your questions thoroughly, ending the conversation politely if the solicitor seems unwilling or unprepared to share information.

• Suspect tax information: Legitimate charities routinely inform donors and prospective donors about the tax benefits of donating to their organizations, so solicitors should be able to instantly share information about tax deductions. The Federal Trade Commission warns against donating to an organization that won't provide proof that donations are tax-deductible.

• Pressure from the solicitor: Reputable charities and nonprofit organizations do not pressure prospective donors into making contributions. Criminals committing charitable fraud may try to pressure their victims into making immediate donations, asking for credit card numbers and other personal details without sharing information about the charity or giving donors time to research the organization.

• Cash or wire requests: Solicitors who insist on cash donations or wire transfers are another indicator of charitable fraud. Reputable organizations allow donors to contribute money via personal check or secure websites, and would never insist that donors make only cash or wire transfer contributions.

• Promise of prizes: Some criminals perpetuating charitable fraud will try to entice victims to part with their money by promising them prizes or sweepstakes winnings. But the FTC notes that the law dictates that donations are not required to make a person eligible to win a sweepstakes.

• Donation pickup offer: Reputable organizations will not require immediate donations to keep the lights on in their offices, so donors should avoid solicitors who offer to send couriers to their homes to collect donations immediately. This is another pressure tactic used by criminals. Legitimate organizations will allow prospective donors the time they need to vet the charity so they can make informed donation decisions.