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Holiday giving: Don't get taken

If there is one thing the entire world knows, it is that Americans are very generous people. Besides giving regularly to the church, to those in a crisis and to specific charities that hold special meaning, people desire to give to others at Christmas as a form of worshiping Christ.

The month of December brings forth the scammers, thieves and con-men because they know people are more vulnerable this time of year. Before giving to anyone not already on a list of trusted charities, take the time to check them out.

Check all charities against Charity Navigator. Look up the charity and ask these questions:

  • How much is the annual salary of the CEO?
  • What is the total cost of administration?
  • How much is spent on fundraising?
  • How transparent is the organization?
  • Are the values of the charity the same as my own?

Consider what your passion is. Are you into a more Eco-friendly planet? Do you desire to help the homeless, unwed pregnant teens, returning veterans or the blind in your own community? Before choosing a new charity to support, examine them with the help of a charity rating system.

It isn't a secret that giving and doing for others not related to us is good for the emotional health of the giver. There are actual physical health benefits involved in meeting the needs of those less fortunate, as well. It also helps the giver to see himself in a more positive light, with much to be thankful for. The optimism translates into a healthier immune system, better able to fend off colds, flu and other viruses.

Follow these simple rules to keep your identity safe from thieves and scammers away from the front door:

  • Never give to any charity not already well-known before checking with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Don't give to solicitors of any charity that aren't following national standards for that charity. Ex.: Don't give to the Salvation Army where there is no kettle and bell-ringer wearing the proper logo.
  • Never give credit card information over the phone to someone who calls your home.
  • Watch for scams in mall parking lots. Ex.: Someone approaches you and asks for help in getting back home because their automobile broke down and they had to spend their last dime on parts.
  • Do some soul-searching before giving to research non-profits. Ask yourself, 'Have they earnestly been seeking a cure for the last 60 years with no progress?'

Sometimes, the best use of charity dollars can be found in a person's own community. Ask local pastors if there are any needy senior citizens who lack food or warm blankets. Teachers know of students who probably won't get much for Christmas. Donate to a local food bank or to a church pantry.

Finally, if you receive gifts that you can't use, consider donating them to thrift stores run by animal shelters or shelters for battered women. There is always a need, you won't have to look far.