The end of the year is a time when many think about giving back a little something to help make the world a bit better. There may be a few organizations that family or friends have always given to that you know well, but if you're on the hunt to give to a cause in need, a few precautions can help ensure the funds you send on are put to the use you intended.
Avoiding a Seasonal Charity Scam
Holidays are also a peak time for savvy charity scammers seeking to take advantage of your seasonal generosity. How can you keep things on track? Make sure to stay sharp against these telltale signs that the organization soliciting your donation may not be on the level:
- The organization won't provide detailed information about its mission, operating costs, or how donations are used
- The organization doesn't provide proof that donations are tax-deductible or refuses to provide a receipt
- You're subjected to high-pressure tactics pressing you to donate immediately, often in cash or by wiring funds, or by making your donation to a courier or via overnight delivery
- The organization unlawfully guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for your donation
- You receive a thank you for a donation you don't recall making — especially from an organization with a name that closely resembles a more well-known charity (that you might actually donate to)
What Should You Do?
With requests coming in each holiday season, think carefully before opening your wallet and don't fall victim to eleventh-hour schemes that turn up the heat to gain your donation ASAP. Consider these options to check off the privacy and security boxes on your screening list:
- Make sure you have the exact name of the organization and take the time to do your research
- If you can't answer all your own important questions about who the fundraisers are and how they use your donation, hold off until you get all your questions answered
- When you search online, add terms like ‘scam,' ‘complaint,' and ‘review' to the charity name to understand how well their reputation is respected among past donors
- Keep an ongoing record of the donations you do make year-by-year to track the changes you make to your annual donation plan
- You may also consider donating more to a smaller group of charities by concentrating your money where it can do the most good by avoiding processing costs and the like
- Don't wire money (or, more obviously, send cash) to anyone claiming to represent a charity — once you do, you can't retrieve funds via either method
- Confirm if the charity needs to be registered in your state by checking in with the National Association of State Charity Officials
- Contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar or Charity Navigator to get more information about their reputability
- For security precautions and tax purposes, gift by check made out to the organization or via a credit card, instead of cash or money-by-wire options
If you receive solicitations over the phone:
- Always ask for detailed information about the organization: its name, address, and phone number
- Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser and if they are, ask about how much of your donation goes to the charity and how much goes to the fundraiser
- If you've never heard of the charity before, don't make any donation until you've done your research
- If you're at all uneasy with the approach, end the conversation
- Call the charity back later and confirm that the call you received was legitimate — development staff should know about all authorized outreach efforts
Opening your heart to help others in need is never a bad idea. Just make sure that you take the time to protect your investment in helping, and that the money you put forward can actually reach those who should see the benefit of your generosity. Be shrewd and get the information you need to confirm that the organization you've selected is legitimate, and brings actual help to others while protecting your information and investment.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.