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Tips for Safe Charitable Donations

Fake causes and charity scams always increase during the holiday gift-giving season. In addition to holiday gift purchases, you might also be planning to give to your favorite nonprofits and charities. Unfortunately, scammers are ready to prey on your holiday goodwill. This is also a time when scammers target those most susceptible to charitable giving solicitations, such as older adults, veterans, and people with disabilities.

What are Charitable Donation Scams?

Many charitable donation scams come from criminals trying to capitalize on a current economic downturn, environmental crisis, or geopolitical turmoil. These scams can look, sound, and feel very realistic. Some are even registered nonprofits but donate only a tiny portion of their earnings to the causes they promote. Whatever the approach, the goal is the same — getting you to “donate” to the scammer.

Some most common types of charity scams are:

  • Phone Calls/Door-to-Door Solicitors – Beware of solicitors that pressure you to give money immediately. Legitimate charities don’t do this. Never give personal or financial information over the phone or to someone you do not know.
  • Emails/Text Messages – Delete any solicitations with attachments, which may contain malware. Just one click can allow a scammer to access your computer or phone and your personal information.
  • Website/Social Media Ads – Be critical of what you see online. Some imposter charities steal true stories and photos from legitimate causes to create fake donation campaign webpages.
  • Mail Campaigns – Be wary of mailed solicitations that say you have been “specially selected” for a prize or contain suspicious official-looking documents with fake logos or government seals.

 Do Your Own Research

Before donating, do your own research and be aware of possible scams:

  • Confirm the organization is legitimate. Watchdog groups like CharityWatch, CharityNavigator, Candid, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance are good places to start.
  • Check registration. Only donations to a registered charity are tax deductible. To confirm that an organization is registered as a charity, use the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Tax Exempt Organization Search Tool.
  • Do your due diligence. Google the charity’s name and the word “scam” to see if others have had bad experiences. Then, enter the URL of the charity yourself to independently confirm you are communicating with the right organization.

 Tips to Avoid Scams

Follow these tips to ensure your donation doesn’t end up in the wrong hands:

  • Don’t assume a request is legitimate because a friend posted it. If a friend posted, shared, or “liked” the request on social media, contact your friend offline. Ask what they know about the post. A legitimate charity should tell you who the organizer is. If you can’t find them online, or the details don’t match the campaign page, be suspicious.
  • Beware of deceptive sales tactics. Some scammers will try to rush a sentimental decision or lie and thank you for a donation you never gave — then ask for your payment information.
  • Never click on a link or attachment to donate online. To identify a deceptive link, hover over it with your mouse – don’t click the link – and the real web address will display. You’ll know something isn’t right if the domain name is different from the sender, the link ends in something other than .com or .org, or there’s a misspelling in the organization’s name or website link.
  • Check the organization’s webpage payment security. If you’re donating online, make sure the online donation form has “https” in the web address. That means your information is encrypted and transmitted securely. But encryption alone doesn’t mean the site is legitimate. Scammers know how to encrypt, too.
  • Always pay by credit card. Making donations via credit card offers additional layers of protection versus a debit card, which pays directly from your checking account. Never donate through wire transfer, gift cards, or crypto assets. Requests for these hard-to-trace forms of payment are a hallmark of scammers.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam conducted by a charitable organization, contact your financial institution to put a hold on your credit card and notify the California Attorney General’s Office. If the scam occurred online, file a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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Last updated: Dec 14, 2023 @ 10:59 am