(WZZM) - 'Tis the season for giving. Opening your heart and your wallet is a nice gesture, but some people claim nice guys (and girls) finish last. That's why it's important to make sure your generosity goes where you want it to go and to make sure you don't end up getting scammed.
We spoke with Phil Catlett of the Western Michigan Better Business Bureau about the topic. "You need to take the time to investigate it thoroughly before you give or buy something. That's probably the best advice we could give you about anything that involves your money," Catlett said.
He recommends using the BBB's website give.org to check any charity that you're contemplating. "We have twenty standards for non-profits that we investigate and they have to pass all twenty standards before they can become an accredited charity. So if you go through give.org and they are an accredited charity, you know you have a very solid organization you're giving to."
One of the BBB's first tips is make sure the charity you're contemplating donating to is forthright. According to Catlett, "If you find a charity that isn't willing to share with you an annual report, or isn't willing to tell you exactly where the money comes from and where the money is going, you don't want to donate to those people because they're trying to hide something. You want total transparency."
In fact they should be able to tell you exactly what percentage is going directly to the cause and what percentage is going for overhead costs. The BBB says at least 65% of your donation should go directly to the cause.
Catlett also advises you look out for groups that are trying to confuse you with their name. "They will quite often name their charity one word different than a very good and legitimate one."
Also don't be confused by the words "Tax Exempt". That means nothing to you. "Tax Deductible" is what will benefit you come next tax season.
If you text your donation, be aware sometimes it takes weeks or even months for it to be processed, so the transaction may not be official before the end of the tax year. Catlett says the safest way to donate is by check.
Lastly, if you are skeptical about people coming to your door, or calling you, you should be. "You should immediately think twice if they are calling you. Our advice to you is never give to those people directly, ask them to leave you documentation that you can investigate."