Charity has always been an easy way to scam and rip off the well-intentioned public. It’s always existed and it will continue to exist until people carefully reexamine their charity habits.
The halacha states that if someone asks for food he should be given it immediately without any investigation. That’s because he may not be able to wait for our investigation to be completed. If someone asks for help for other reasons other than food, one is well advised to make sure that his charity money is going to a worthwhile cause. That does not mean that we should not give collectors any charity at all but rather we should learn to give tzedaka to anyone who claims to need it unless we know differently. his However, any substantial money or money that we have designated for charity should not be distributed without making sure that it goes to a worthwhile purpose. The nickels, dimes, and quarters we have stashed away in our pockets that are not part of the money designated for tzedaka can be used to distribute to anyone stretching out his hand. This advice comes from Hagon Horav Eliashuv shlita.
Tzedaka is no different than any other mitzvah and we have an obligation that it be done properly. We must examine an esrog or a mezuzah to make sure it is kosher. If we put up a mezuzah that isn’t kosher we have not fulfilled the mitzvah. So, too, we must make sure that our tzedaka dollars go to a worthy charitable cause. It is best to have first hand knowledge of the organization or person to whom we give our hard earned money. There are many trustworthy people in our community that we should give our money to rather than give it to phone solicitors that we don’t know or that skim 85% of the money for office and other expenses.
When we buy a diamond we make sure to buy it from a reputable firm and get it inspected by someone who knows how much it’s worth. A mitzvah is no different. Rabbi Moshe Finstein z.z.l. Would often complain that people ask him questions on all sorts of topics yet fail to ask him questions relating to tzedaka.
The Jewish community gives lots of money to charity and could easily support all our institutions and needs. The only problem is that those who don’t really need it siphon much of it off. So if you want to make sure you are truly receiving a mitzvah, better do your homework and give that charity money to an honest to goodness worthwhile cause where it gives you the greatest dividends in the World-to-Come.