Trust, but verify

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A man named Peter called the newsroom Thursday, and he was angry about something he’d read in that day’s Times. “I think I was duped,” he said.

Someone purporting to be from the Marine Corps League had called his West Tisbury home and asked for a donation. The caller told him to leave the donation in an envelope on his front step, and he would be by to pick it up.

Jo Ann Murphy, the Island’s veterans’ agent, had written to The Times to let us know there were a couple of scams going on. Sure enough, there was someone out there preying on the generosity of Islanders by claiming to be from the Marine Corps League.

She wrote to us so we could alert the public. Unfortunately, it was too late for Peter. After reading the brief, he called the Marine Corps League, and they gave him the bad news. No one from the organization was actively soliciting donations on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Marine Corps League is a worthy organization. According to its website, the league is the only congressionally chartered U.S. Marine Corps–related veterans’ organization. The league has a charitable foundation that offers scholarships and provides support to youth organizations.

There are easy and safe ways to donate on the Marine Corps League website.

We don’t know how much Peter gave, and it really doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.

It’s disgusting that people cheat hard-working people out of their money. And it’s despicable when those people use the honor of veterans to do their dirty deed.

Charitable donations are important, and there are many worthy causes. The takeaway here should not be to put away your checkbook and never donate. But there are ways to do it safely and effectively.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has a database on her public charities website. So it’s fairly easy to check and see if a nonprofit organization is properly registered with the state as a 501(c)(3). The AG’s office invites consumers to either call at 617-963-2315 or to do a little research on their own at mass.gov/ago/charitiesreports.

On the website, the attorney general’s office warns against responding to solicitations over the phone. Even if it’s a legit organization, consumers should keep in mind that if a professional solicitor has been hired, that company is likely taking a cut of the donations. According to a 2014 study by the attorney general’s office, of every $1 donated through a professional solicitor, only 62 cents made it to the charity.

Just confirming that a charity is a nonprofit organization may not be enough. It’s also a good idea to check to see how much of the money donated is going to the organization’s overhead, and how much is actually reaching people in need.

The AG’s office also points out that it’s OK to say no to someone calling and looking for a donation. Urge the caller to send information in the mail about the charity. It’s a good way to hit the pause button so you can do the kind of research necessary to make sure a charity is legit.

There’s a helpful list of dos and don’ts on the AG’s website, as well.

Nobody likes to be cheated or scammed, but we can’t let it discourage charitable giving. To paraphrase those old Syms commercials, an educated consumer is the best giver.