KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Experts say most people are likely to donate to charities whose mission matters to them. However, what if a charity sounds like a group with a familiar brand name, but it's really not?
Randy Watson has donated to women's cancer groups and to veterans associations.
Last year, he gave to a organization called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation and about the same time, he sent money to the Association for Breast Cancer Research.
Both groups called again this year and asked if he'd donate. They sent background information and pledge cards.
"I received both of them at the same time this year so I opened them up going through my mail like I usually do," Watson said.
"And I noticed that when I saw the cards, I noticed that both of these cards looked dramatically similar except for some color change, the logo change. Everything else is the same including the address that I'm supposed to send my money to for both of them," he added.
That address is: 1380 Monroe Street NW, #330 Washington D.C. 20010-3452
"When I first saw the two addresses alike, I thought maybe they both hired the same people to collect for them," Watson said. "That's when I went on the website to look. I didn't want to make that my final judgement on it."
Randy went to the Better Business Bureau's website called Wise Giving Alliance. "I discovered this, (the breast cancer group) is not even listed as a place you can give money to. There's a lot of breast cancer in there, but there's nothing that says the Association for Breast Cancer Research," he said.
"I found out the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is a real group," he added, "But the Better Business Bureau says they're not accredited." The website has a symbol indicating the charity did not disclose information.
There's a website for the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The organization lists its mission. There's a picture of its president and his background. Its charitable works are also shown, and it passes out free long distance phone cards to hospitalized veterans.
But the group chose not to cooperate with the Wise Giving Alliance. That prompted Randy to hold onto his money this year.
"If you're going to donate money for a worthy cause, you might as well make sure it's going to a real worthy cause," he said.
At the Better Business Bureau in Knoxville, President Jerry Tipton says the national bureau's Wise Giving Alliance website has hundreds of charities listed. Accessing the information is free to anyone.
"They set up 20 standards that charities have to adhere to," Tipton said. "We can't make them provide this information, but most reputable ones will give us information because they want to be rated."
On the alliance website when Tipton checked for the breast cancer group, it showed there was no match. But when you look closer at the group's flyer from the mail, there's a different website listed.
We checked it and found there's some information, but you don't learn much from it. "It's a website for Association for Breast Cancer Research. It's a one-page site with an 800 number and a P.O. box. It doesn't even give information about how to contribute, their mission statement, where their funds go, or anything," Tipton said.
Randy says he'll continue contributing to charities, but he's going to be wiser about it. "I've learned to check out anything that I get before I send money to them," he said.
Here are some tips for charitable giving:
Give to groups you know.
Make sure the charity is the one you think it is.
Ask if your gift is tax-deductible.
Make sure the charity is legitimate.
Make sure you understand the group's work
Find out about their expenses.
6 On Your Side called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation Monday, trying to find out why the organization chose not to disclose its information to the Better Business Bureau. No one returned our call.
If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.