A bad economy takes a toll on all segments of society, even filtering down to charitable giving.

It's especially sad to see children being affected this time of year.

Last year, for example, about 113,000 toys were delivered through the Toys for Tots campaign in Philadelphia. This year so far, it's been reported that organizers have collected only about 25,000 toys.

One Marine Corp organizer said toys are moving out of the warehouse as soon as they're received and that he's already had to turn down requests.

With charitable giving down in many parts of the state, it's important for residents to know who they're dealing with and where their donations and hard-earned dollars are going. There are thousands of charities and hundreds of professional solicitors canvassing this holiday.

Unfortunately, there are also numerous scam artists who do not break for the Christmas holiday.

According to Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, Pennsylvanians considering making charitable donations to a cause or a group they are unfamiliar with should first do some research.

Aichele, whose department oversees charities in the state, warns that scam artists are always ready to prey on peoples' generosity, and particularly during the holiday season. She said there are many worthy charities out there, however, and residents "should feel free to contribute to causes that mean something to them."

Although most charities are legitimate and use the majority of their money for worthwhile projects, some may misrepresent their cause or spend a high percentage of donations on administrative and fundraising costs. Therefore, before giving to any charitable organization, it's important ask what share of your donation will be used for such expenses.

The commonwealth secretary's office offers these tips to assure your charitable giving is headed to where you intended it:

Ÿ Never give to a charity about which you know nothing.

Ÿ Ask for written information about the charity's programs and finances.

Ÿ Don't feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your home to pick up the contribution.

Ÿ Never commit to donate on the phone if you're not familiar with the group.

Ÿ Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.

Ÿ All charities have expenses, so understand how your donation will be spent.

Ÿ Consult with your tax adviser to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible. Charitable donations made before Dec. 31 may be tax deductible for the tax filing due the following April.

For additional tips and information, visit the Department of State's Bureau of Charitable Organizations online at www.dos.state.pa.us, then click on "charities," or call 1-800-732-0999.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com