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BBB warns donors of fake Boston Marathon charities

Published: Monday, April 21, 2014 2:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 21, 2014 2:59 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO — The Boston Marathon, one of the nation’s most popular sporting events, took place on Monday, and was the 118th annual race with more than 36,000 runners. During last year’s race three people were killed and 264 others were injured by two bombs that exploded near the finish line. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be aware of illegitimate charities and scams that surround the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“After tragic events, scammers often play to the emotions of consumers seeking donations to special funds that don’t exist or that improperly distribute the donations,” said Steve J. Bernas, president/CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Consumers need to do careful research before donating to any charity that claims to be involved with the Boston Marathon.”

The BBB offers the following tips when giving to charities:

• Thoughtful giving. Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.

• State government registration. About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.

• Respecting victims and their families. Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either their names and/or photographs of them.

• How will donations be used? Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. How will donations help victims’ families or the specific organizations? Make sure the charity identifies when the collected funds will be used.

• Online cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you could be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on a link that downloads harmful malware to your computer.

• Financial transparency. After funds are raised, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their website so anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available in the future.

• Tax deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds are tax-exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind for federal income tax purposes. Contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

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