Giving with Confidence
Don’t let scammers and fake charities deter you from spreading the joy this holiday season.
This is the season of giving. Whether it’s leftover gratitude from Thanksgiving, the anticipation of the traditional Christmas gift exchanges, the divine intervention of the Holiday Spirit (even Scrooge came around, eventually), or just a rush for that last-minute tax write-off, December is the most popular month for donating to charity.
Unfortunately, that means it’s also a juicy opportunity for fake charities and scammers to try and take advantage of your generosity. This year, the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission has gifted all of us a package of tips on how to safely donate and make sure that these Grinch's can’t steal your holiday cheer:
- Search the Internet — Before you give, it’s always a good idea to Google the name of the charity in question with search terms like “review,” “rating,” “scam,” or “complaint.” If you are searching for an organization that deals with a cause that is dear to you (like cancer or homelessness) try typing in “highest rated charity” or “best charity.” There are also a number of federal, state, and independent watchdog organizations that can vouch for a specific charity (see sidebar).
- Ask Questions — If the would-be charity is contacting you soliciting donations, it’s more than okay to do a little gentle interrogation. Ask callers how much of the money goes to the program and how much goes to the organizers. Is this an actual charity or some sort of Political Action Committee (PAC)?
- Take Your Time — Don’t let anyone rush you into giving. If someone calls you with a charity that interests you, you don’t have to hand out your credit card number right there. Hang up and look for the organization online. Compare them to other charities that address similar issues. The “hard sell” isn’t really in the spirit of the season.
- Spell Check — Even if you see a charity you’ve heard of on social media or elsewhere, make sure that when you go online to donate that you’ve spelled the name or URL correctly. Scammers love to pick names and buy domains that sound similar or are just a letter off from the actual spelling of legit organizations to lure potential victims.
- Put it on the Credit Card — Unless it’s the Salvation Army bucket, never donate in cash. Steer clear of giving to organizations through gift cards or wiring money, too. The safest ways to pay or by credit card or check. Then check your statements to make sure that you were charged only the amount you pledged to donate and that you’re not signed up for a recurring donation.
We don’t just give to help others — we donate to feel good about ourselves, show gratitude for what we have, and celebrate the season of togetherness. Don’t let the specter of scammers humbug you from supporting the causes nearest and dearest to you. If you follow these simple guidelines, you can spread the joy this holiday season!
HELP FOR RESEARCHING CHARITIES
It’s always a good idea to do some independent research on a charity before you give. The FTC suggests checking in with these watchdogs, which report on and rate charitable organizations.
BBB WISE GIVING ALLIANCE
Generates reports on charities in four areas, including governance, results reporting, finances, and truthful and transparent communications.
Issues ratings for nonprofits based on trustworthiness and accountability.
Gives detailed ratings and analytics for over 600 charities, exposing nonprofit abuses and advocating for donors’ interests.
Analyzes data on foundations and their giving, as well as interpreting trends in foundation growth and operation.
Their Tax Exempt Organization Search can tell you if your donation would be tax-deductible.
The National Association of State Charity Officials is an aggregation of state-level government charity regulators.