It’s the season of giving — and of receiving requests for charitable donations. Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when scam artists sneak in their fraudulent pleas for fake charities. Before you decide to donate, use these tips to make sure you’re giving to a legitimate group that will put your money to good use.
Is it a real charity or a fraud?
While scammers do their best to disguise themselves, these signs can help you identify the frauds:
- The organization’s name is similar to a well-known or familiar charity, but not exactly the same
- You get a thank you from the group for a donation you never made
- The group guarantees sweepstakes winnings if you send a donation
- The request is highly emotional or uses high-pressure tactics, insisting you donate now
- The group requests that you donate by cash, by giving them a gift card code or by using cryptocurrency
You can (and should) also do some research on any group asking for donations. Start by asking for the organization’s official name, phone number, website and employer identification number (EIN). With this information, you can look them up on reputable charity-review websites, such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, GuideStar and BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
With the EIN, you can also use the Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) feature at IRS.gov to see if the group is a qualified charity and to determine if contributions could be tax deductible.
What if you get a fraudulent request?
If you receive a donation request from a group you think is running a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) fraud reporting website. Share all the details you can, including the name of the group, the contact information they gave you, even a copy of the message itself. You can also report suspected fraud to your state charity regulator, who you can find through the National Association of State Charity Officials.
How can you safely donate?
Once you decide to donate, keep playing it safe by using a credit card or check. Unlike cash, these options can be more easily tracked if the request turns out to be a scam.
Make checks out only to the organization itself, never to an individual person. If you’re using a credit card online, type the website URL directly into your web browser. Don’t click on a link from an email, text message or social media post. Make sure the address for the contribution page starts with https, indicating the information will be encrypted and transmitted securely.
When it comes to crowdfunding requests, the safest option is to skip it unless you know the beneficiary personally and can confirm that donations will go to that individual.
It’s always a good idea to keep any type of confirmation message you receive after donating. If you don’t get one, contact the charity directly to see if they received your funds. Check your bank or credit card statements, too, to make sure the correct amount (and no more) shows up.
What if you’ve been scammed by a charity fraud?
If you sent money to a group only to discover it was a scam, you’re not alone — and your money may not be lost. As soon as you realize you’re the victim of a charity fraud, report it to the FTC. Next, contact the company that issued the credit card, debit card or check you used to donate. Explain the fraudulent charge and request that they reverse the transaction. The same goes if you used a wire transfer, gift card, money transfer app or cryptocurrency exchange.
Donate with your head and your heart
Supporting causes near and dear to your heart is a wonderful way to help others during the holiday season. Sadly, criminals are always ready to take advantage of your goodwill by stealing money you intended for others. Following the suggestions above can help you ensure that your generous gift will go where it’s intended while keeping your financial information safe.
For more tips and tools that can help you avoid fraud and safeguard your financial information, visit our online Security Center.