Opinion: Ask before you give: Avoid scams, con artists


By Paul Downey

CEO & President, Senior Community Centers

Giving to a charity each year is easy for most of us. We find ourselves drawn to a cause, a particular group, mission, etc. When you have that personal tie to an organization giving your hard-earned dollars is simple.

However, what happens when you don’t have a charity and you are new to donating? Or maybe you want to support a cause aligned with a new interest you have. Often during this time of year, con artists take advantage of the generosity of San Diegans and take the hard-earned money for themselves, rather than for reputable and legitimate non-profit organizations that serve the most vulnerable in our community. Here are six quick tips to help you chose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed:

— Only give to a charity you know.

— Do your research by visiting California Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts (, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (, Guidestar ( and Charity Navigator ( Plus, go to the organization’s website and really get a good understanding of what the charity does and who benefits from your donation.

— Ask questions. Real charities will tell you how they use their donations and what portion of your contribution will go directly to the group they are trying to help. Also, ask them for a 990 tax form. If they cannot answer those questions, don’t give them your money.

— Do not send to a P.O. Box. Make sure the organization has a real live street address, where you can go and see them at work.

— Ask for a tour. Or even better just show up unannounced.

— There should be no hard sell. Organizations don’t need money “today.” If they cannot give you an answer for what the donation is to be used for then walk away.

With these quick tips you will be positioned to avoid scams and know that your money is going.