For many people, these are tough times financially.

No matter how difficult things get, though, people always find a little extra to generously donate to their favorite charities.

When making donations, use caution and common sense. With the tough times comes an increase in schemes. Often these schemes involve fake charities.

Preferably, donate to groups closest to home. Think about your fire department, local Cancer organization, Red Cross, or some other local charity which would help you, your loved ones, or your neighbor if disaster occurred.

It's also safer to donate to local charities. Many appeals are heart-wrenching, but the reality is that often very little of the donated funds go to help the causes.

Also, donating close to home lessens the risk of falling victim to a scam. Use caution, especially when using the internet, in responding to appeals. Never give your credit card information unless it is an organization with which you are familiar, whether it be via the internet or over the telephone.

If someone calls and appeals for funds, ask for the appeal via the postal service and hang up the phone as quickly as possible. Don't give anyone, no matter how desperate they might sound, any checking account number or credit card info over the phone, on the internet, or even by mail unless you're sure the charity is legitimate. Otherwise, quicker than you can have second thoughts, your bank account could be wiped clean.

Especially during the holidays, appeals for funds seem to increase. Some charities have very touching names. Sometimes its a ploy.

There are many animal rescue organizations and wildlife groups seeking funds. Again, be careful. Remember, too, that it's local groups which will most benefit your cause at home. And just because a group insists its working to, say, save the chimpanzees, it doesn't mean this is true. Investigate the organization. Do research on the internet. Don't fall for a scam.

Be generous, especially with the so many organizations that do so much good. But also be careful.

Internet and phone scams are happening constantly. Sometmes falling victim can leave you with less than the third-world countries depicted on the appeals.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com [1]