Donating to charity is a worthy endeavor, and it can even convey some financial benefits at tax time if you itemize your deductions. But whether you’re donating to charity for the first time, or you’ve been supporting your favorite causes for years, it’s a good idea to ensure your donation is safe and the charity is legitimate.
Criminals have the opportunity to fly under the radar and impersonate real charities, especially during times of social unrest, global health crises or disaster. While you should continue to support charitable causes, it’s important to do so safely. Here’s how to help avoid fraud when donating to charity.
1. Avoid Inbound Solicitations
There are many ways criminals can pass as legitimate charities. They may create a fictional organization from scratch or use a name similar to a real charity to lure in unsuspecting donors.
They might want the victim seeking to donate to take an action, like clicking a link or downloading an attachment via email. They might want the victim to provide personal information over the phone. They may have plans to pocket your money, steal your identity or install ransomware on your computer.
You can avoid phishing scams by ignoring inbound requests, like emails or phone calls, even if you believe it is coming from a legitimate organization. Don’t follow links, download attachments or provide information through unsolicited phone calls. When you’re ready to make a donation, go directly to the charity’s website.
2. Research the Charity
Criminals may set up fake organizations as a response to current events, such as the coronavirus pandemic or Black Lives Matter protests, to prey on sympathetic donors. Donations may vanish and won’t even be tax-deductible. By doing a few minutes of research online, you can verify if an organization is legitimate.
For donations to be tax-deductible, charities must register with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. To make sure your donation is tax-deductible, you can check the IRS list of 501(c)(3) organizations.
For further research, you can check charity rating websites like Charity Navigator or GiveWell. These sites provide information on thousands of legitimate charities, including data on how efficiently your donation is used to serve a cause.
You can also check your state’s local resources on charities. Look for complaints. If you see evidence of multiple complaints online or with your state, consider that a warning sign.
3. Make Donations Safely
Legitimate charities can accept donations through common payment types, including cash, check, credit card, PayPal and more. If the charity requires specific payment types like cash, you should consider this a red flag. If they want unusual payment types such as gift cards, that’s an even bigger warning sign.
Credit cards are one of the safer donation options. They have built-in legal protections, they provide a record trail of your donation and they aren’t tied to your bank account. If you donate online, look for a padlock icon in your browser to indicate you’re on a secure website.
When you’re ready to make a donation, go directly to the charity’s website for donation instructions. Never provide personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account number when it isn’t needed to make a donation. Even your physical address can be used to run scams or commit identity theft, so be careful about where you share your information.