2003-11-14 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. During this time of year, people feel more benevolent towards their community and other segments of society. Sometimes this is when more unscrupulous practices arise by so-called charitable organizations. Please keep in mind the following information when donating to a charity this season and during all other times of year.

When you are approached by a charity, there is basic information you should be able to obtain. If the organization has difficulty answering your questions, you should be suspect of their charitable intent. However, if they are unable to produce the information you requested immediately, but are willing to get back to you with the information, that is not necessarily indicative of a dubious organization. You should always learn what the charity’s mission is and for what purpose it will be using your money. If information about its programs and finances are not available immediately, New York State requires that they provide it within 15 days.

If you feel that the charity is one to which you will contribute, learn how the charity appropriates the contributions. They should be able to tell you what percent of the money goes towards administrative expenses as well as what percent is given to the charity’s programs. Administrative costs are a legitimate and necessary expense, so be wary of claims like, "all proceeds will go to charity." Some fraudulent charities have names that closely resemble famous national and international charities. This is done to confuse you. Be skeptical of those charities that have names similar to well known organizations unless it is affiliated with it and can provide verification of its affiliation.

Charitable solicitations can come to you in many forms: the mail, over the internet, door-to-door solicitors, and over the phone. No matter how you receive it, your first instinct should be the same. Determine if the solicitation is from a legitimate organization. You should always find out exactly how your contribution will be spent. You should be careful of organizations that send you a questionnaire or a survey. Often, it is sent to you to distract your attention from the organizations programs and from how it will spend your contribution. Remember; never give your credit card number or other personal information unless you are personally familiar with the organization. If you provide information over the internet, you should seek assurances that the site is secure.1 If a solicitor comes to your home, they should have identification authorizing that person to solicit for the stated charity. When you are ready to contribute, do not give cash. When contributing via check be sure that the check is made out to the charity.

If you experience a problem, feel as if you may have been taken advantage of, or would like to check on the validity of a charity, you can contact the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau at (212) 416-8400. The number for the Attorney General’s general helpline is 1-(800)-771-7755. Remember these tips if you are solicited or if you wish to make a contribution. Your contribution should go towards making a difference in someone life, not for lining the pockets of an unscrupulous person.

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