Published: Dec 20, 2012 4:45 PM EST
Updated: Dec 20, 2012 6:59 PM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's the time of year many want to give rather than receive.  It's also the time of year some people are looking to take advantage of you.  If you're planning to give to charity, you want to make sure you know who you're donating to.  

To be considered a charity, there are certain requirements that have to be met.  But this holiday season, as you give, make sure to do your homework so you're not giving to the grinch.

During a time where we're all trying to pinch pennies but still give to those less fortunate, some people are taking advantage.

"Many times they are not legitimate charity, they are a for profit business masquerading as a charity or their charity work is very minimal," said Major Tom Louden, Salvation Army.

Major Louden said certain organizations are claming to be someone they aren't

"There are organizations that are walking a very fine line and masquerading as the Salvation Army and other charities with parking lot station drop boxes that are painted red and white to look like the Salvation Army," said Louden.

The organizations are legit but Louden said they've barely met the requirements needed to be considered a charity.  It's why he encourages people to do their homework.

"Its real important for donors, even if its just a bag of clothes or shoes, to make sure its going to the charity of their choice and that they know where its going," said Louden.

Stacey Payne with the Lee County Sheriff's Office said with so many charities that are legitimate, she advised not to open your checkbook so fast.

"Take a look and make sure its not some scammer out there who has manipulated the name a little bit and created their own charity," said Payne.

First, check to make sure you're working with an honest, legitimate charity.  Next, find out where the money the charity collects is going.  How much is going to administrative costs?  How much is going to fundraising?  How much is going to helping?

Also, ask questions and get proof.  You can ask the charity to send you their financial documents.  Lastly, make sure to get involved.  Make site visits or pick up the phone to find out how the charity works.

"I have limited dollars, we all do.  So when I give my money to a charity, I want to make sure its going to the program, not all the overhead," said Payne.

As for Louden, he encourages you to never give money or donations to a charity until you've made a connection with them.

"If you think a charity looks good from the outside, get on the inside and look outwardly.  If its worth your donation, they'll look better from the inside out than they do from the outside in," said Louden.

There are also websites you can check out the validity of a charity and see where their money is going.