The American Heart Association is urging the public to be cautious when responding to mail requests for donations from non-profit organizations.

Mailings from organizations with similar-sounding names may confuse the donor and divert money away from intended agencies."In particular, we are concerned that the public may confuse the American Heart Association with other groups whose names include words like `American,' `National,' `Heart,' `Heart Disease,' `Heart Research,' `Cardiac,' `Cardiovascular,' and so on," said Jack Majors, executive director of the American Heart Association, Utah affiliate.

Majors said the Utah affiliate has received numerous requests for information about such similar organizations.

"While the American Heart Association does not wish to question any legitimate not-for-profit agency raising funds for cardiovascular research, we do want the public to understand that there is no relationship between these sound-alike groups and the American Heart Association," he stressed. "We believe prospective contributors might think that when they contribute to such groups that they are giving to the AHA."

The American Heart Association cautions the public to scrutinize any organization soliciting money. The Council of Better Business Bureaus has defined voluntary standards for charitable solicitations. While not recommending one fund-raising method over another, the standards call for solicitations and informational materials to be accurate, truthful and not misleading, both in whole and in part. Total fund-raising and administrative costs shall be `reasonable,' that is, not exceeding 50 percent of total income, the council said.

Majors offered these suggestions for people who are not certain about the legitimacy of an organization asking for contributions:

-Determine if it has tax-exempt status by asking to see a letter from the Internal Revenue Service. Non-profit, tax-exempt charitable institutions must register with the IRS so that contributions are deductible.

-Contact the Utah attorney general or state Division of Consumer Protection to determine whether it's registered to solicit money in your state. That office also keeps records of complaints and legal actions filed against organizations engaging in fraudulent or illegal activities.

-Contact the local office of the Better Business Bureau, which maintains lists of non-profit agencies that operate according to bureau standards for charitable solicitations.

-Write to the National Charities Information Bureau for a free "Wise Giving Guide" published every two months. The bureau is at 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.

For more information, call the American Heart Association, 322-5601.