For many charities, the holiday season is the biggest time of the year for charitable donations. People are in a giving mood, the deadline for making this year’s tax-deductible donations is approaching, and mission-based organizations are making their final push to solicit donors.
But this spike in giving can put donors at risk of fraud, identity theft, and other scams. Criminals may be trying to pocket your charitable donations or steal your personal data by running charity scams at a time when you’re distracted.
A few bad apples shouldn’t stop you from giving to charities, but you should be careful with your money and information. Here are five tips for avoiding charity scams over the holidays.
1. Don’t Respond to Emails or Phone Calls
Scammers may try to steal your donations by creating fake charities or impersonating an organization you’ve donated to in the past. There are many ways to do this; they might scour your social media accounts to find causes you’re sympathetic to or create a fake organization with a name that’s similar to a legitimate charity.
No matter the scam, they may try to solicit your donations via email or over the phone. Even if you think you know the organization that’s contacting you doesn’t mean it’s not a well-disguised criminal.
Don’t respond to email or phone solicitations, and avoid clicking unverified links or downloading attachments. Instead, go directly to a legitimate charity’s website to find the right donation channels.
2. Do Your Research
Want to verify if a charity is legitimate and if your donations will be tax-deductible? You can start with the IRS list of tax-exempt organizations. If a charity has registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), you will find them here.
You can do further research to find out how charities will spend your money and how well they support their mission. Websites like CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, and GiveWell provide ratings and information on charities nationwide.
3. Pay Using Secure Methods
If a charity is demanding specific payment types like cash or demanding unusual forms of payment like gift cards, this is a red flag. Legitimate charities should be able to accept multiple forms of payment.
You should always pay in a manner that makes sense for you – but keep in mind that credit card payments offer more security than debit cards, checks, or cash. That’s because credit cards aren’t tied to your bank account and have specific protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
4. Avoid Sharing Personal Information
Never share sensitive information like Social Security Numbers or bank account numbers. Even common data like your name, email address, and home address can be used to steal your identity or run further scams, so guard your information carefully. You should only share your personal info with legitimate organizations that take data security seriously.
5. Watch Your Accounts and Credit Reports
Keep a close eye on your credit cards, bank accounts, and credit reports. If you see unusual activity on your credit card or bank account, you will need to report it to the financial institution immediately. And if inaccurate information lands on your credit report, it could be a sign of identity theft. Identity IQ makes monitoring your credit easy, with daily credit report monitoring and alerts that keep you informed anytime your credit report changes.