The Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio and Ohio Attorney General's Office are offering tips to central Ohioans who want to give so they don't get taken in by scams this holiday season.

The Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio and Ohio Attorney General's Office are offering tips to central Ohioans who want to give so they don't get taken in by scams this holiday season.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said many charities throughout the country use the last month of the year to seek support from donors. It can be an opportunity to tie in to the spirit of giving for the season or the last chance to give and claim the donation when filing tax returns for the year.

At the same time, scammers may pose as charity representatives in hopes of collecting donations by phone, online or outside stores.

They claim to support a charitable cause, but ultimately they keep the money for themselves, according to DeWine.

Kate Hanson, DeWine's public information officer, said one challenge with charity scams is that donors often don't realize their contributions aren't used as promised.

"They're asked to make a contribution to what sounds like a good cause, and they make a donation, but they never realize the money wasn't used as promised," she said. "On the other hand, in a number of consumer scams, people pay for something they never receive and recognize the problem fairly quickly."

That's why it's important for donors to make informed decisions, Hanson said.

She encourages people to ask questions and do some research.

"We know many Ohioans will give generously this time of year, and we encourage them to do so," DeWine said. "We also want to help ensure that their charitable contributions end up in the right hands."

DeWine's office can be contacted online at OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515 for help on questionable activity.

Avoid emotional appeals

Kip Morse, CEO of the BBB of Central Ohio, said December is a popular month to receive inquiries about charities.

"All the appeals are going out and you're at a point, (wondering) if you're getting (a solicitation) because you have supported in the past or if you're on a list," he said. "It's wise to get online to check a company out, and see what we have on them. If there's nothing, that's a red flag."

Morse said a lot of appeals come through emails and phone calls, but especially emails.

"It opens this Pandora's box for phishing scams," he said, adding that it typically involves a fraudulent email that appears to come from a legitimate source.

Morse said the public should avoid getting caught up in emotional appeals and avoid making rash decisions during a chaotic time of the year.

While some may think senior citizens are the most likely victims of scams, Morse said, research shows it's actually millennials.

"They're more trusting and want to give and not do the research," he said of that age group.

With charity, Morse said, scammers work on your heart.

"You think it's the holiday season and you need to give money," he said. "Make sure it doesn't end up in a crook's hands."

Tracking issues

The BBB offers Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

"It's a national program developed at the local level," Morse said. "It went national in June or July. Ever since then, it has been growing immensely."

Scam Tracker is a free interactive online tool for locating and reporting scams and fraud.

Consumers can report malicious activity and view a map showing where scams are happening locally. The tracker will not only alert consumers of suspicious businesses, but can prompt tips and alerts, and serve as the basis for investigations.

During the holidays, American charities receive one-third of their annual donations, according to Morse.

"Even if a charity is legitimate and not a scam, you can see how much goes to the cause," Morse said.

He said complaints are pretty consistent from month to month.

Morse said recent scams have involved sweepstakes and advanced fee loans when people are looking for loans to get out of credit card debt.

"We're one of the few organizations you can still call and talk to people whether it's finding out about a company or charity," he added.

Some specific things to keep in mind include:

* Watch out for name similarities. When charities seek support for the same cause, their names are often similar.

* Avoid on-the-spot donation decisions from unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today.

* Further research charities that don't disclose. Visit Give.org to find out if a selected charity is nondisclosure.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla