Giving to a charity? Make sure it’s legit first

Americans donated more than $350 billion to charities in 2014, but with more than a million charitable groups to choose from, deciding which ones to donate to can be tricky.

The vast majority of charities provide real aid to those in need, but scam artists won’t hesitate to profit off of good intentions.

This past spring, the Cancer Fund of America and three affiliate organizations were charged with defrauding donors of $187 million.

Consumer Reports says it’s important to do a little homework before giving.

“Organizations can spend as much on marketing and overhead as on actually helping people,” Consumer Reports’ Margot Gilman said.

Online resources such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and Give.org from the Better Business Bureau evaluate groups based on their costs and effectiveness.

In general, the groups suggest staying away from charities that spend more than 30 to 40 percent of their budgets on fundraising.

Consumer Reports says one way to learn more about an investigation is to volunteer first. Experts also say people should watch out for look-alike charities.

“It’s important to look at organizations whose names and logos look a lot like those of more respected charities,” Gilman said. “They’re preying on confusion.”

For example, Charity Watch shows the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society spends about three quarters of its budget on charitable programs.

Meanwhile, the Childhood Leukemia Foundation spends only one-quarter of its budget on charitable programs, Consumer Reports sayd.

Consumers should also be wary of telemarketing calls, especially high pressure appeals or claims that are overly emotional.

,Americans donated more than $350 billion to charities in 2014, but with more than a million charitable groups to choose from, deciding which ones to donate to can be tricky.

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