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Some questionable charities use an impressive name which closely resembles the name of a respected, legitimate organization. When you receive a solicitation from an organization that sounds familiar but that you don't know well or with which you do not have an existing relationship, ask for information on the organization in writing.
Check out the charity with the Federal Trade Commission, charity ratings providers such as CharityWatch, Charity Navigator or GuideStar, and/or your state charity registration office before making a contribution. You might also want to check IRS publication 78 to confirm that the organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.