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Especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, bogus charities run rampant. People all over are asking for your help, preying on your willingness to help those who you think need it most. But some of these people don't need your help at all. They simply are looking to make a fast buck. Many people don't mind giving to these people even though they are ripping them off, because they believe if these people are asking them for money, they must need the money badly enough. Others want to know if the "charity" they're giving to is legitimate.

• Check out the group. If you're suspicious of a group, ask for some information about them, including the group's name, phone number, address, and contact name. Do some research of your own about the organization. Call your local secretary of state's office and the local Better Business Bureau. Both offices have records of legitimate charities. Then, if you want to still give to the organization, send them a check.
• Never give cash. Always know where your money is going. If you give $1,000 to a "charity," and later hear that it was a fraud, you may have an opportunity to get your money back, if you wish to pursue that. You will, however, need proof of the donation. Writing checks for donations also give you the opportunity to use the donation as a tax write off.
• Volunteer for the organization instead of giving them money. If you're concerned about how the money is used, don't be afraid to volunteer your time with them, instead of giving up your money.
• Donate products instead of money. If the organization is dedicated to feeding the hungry during the holiday season, donate non-perishable food items instead of giving them money. This gives you the joy of actually shopping for the food the hungry people get to eat and the satisfaction of a job well done.