Holiday Phone ScamsFestive parties, carolers, shopping and trimming the tree. These are some of the merrier images of the holiday season.

But the nation's over 1 million charitable organizations and churches are hoping thoughts will also turn to the sick and needy. They are hoping you will be in the gift giving mode and eager to obtain those last minute charitable tax deductions.

Expect to get more solicitations in the mail and on the phone. For most of us, picking the right charity from all the emotional requests, dinner-hour phone calls and numerous other requests can be confusing and sometimes risky.

To cut down on the confusion and reduce the risk of giving to a deceptive charity, consider the following:

  • Don't give in to pressure for an immediate gift, like having a "runner" come to your home or business to collect money.
  • Never give out a credit card number over the telephone. Send a check made out to the full official name of the organization.
  • Don't send money to an organization that has a Post Office Box address unless you know for a fact it is legitimate.
  • Ask how much a charity spends on its programs, vs. fund-raising and overhead. Request a financial statement to review before making a decision.
  • Determine the tax deductibility of a contribution. Tax-exempt groups don't have to pay federal taxes, but not all of them are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
  • Check out a charity through the state's charity registration office, usually a division of the state attorney general's office, or a local Better Business Bureau.
  • Find out what portion of the proceeds the charity will receive when purchasing an item to benefit a charity. The Better Business Bureau requires that a charity spend at least 50 percent of their total income on its programs.
  • To be on the safe side, give only to those organizations that you know are legitimate.
  • Remember that not all police and fire associations solicit for funds over the phone. To verify any charitable request, get the name of the organization, address, phone number and contact person. Check for the phone listing in your white pages or through operator assistance. Verify with the organization that they are soliciting over the phone for donations.
  • Report possible phone scams to your police department.