The holiday season is a time for giving, but it’s also a time for taking–or rather stealing–thanks to scammers who prey on charity. As contributions from Americans grow each year, so too do the opportunities for the legion of cyber Grinches out there.
Since non-profit organizations count on almost a third of their donations during the holiday season, it’s more important than ever for anyone looking to give back to the community to do their homework before opening their hearts and wallets. Here are a few tips:
- Be careful when you open that email: Phishing scams are on the rise, and they’re only getting more sophisticated. Scammers can make near-perfect imitations of emails and websites from real charities. When in doubt, go directly to the website of the organization rather than clicking any links – and don’t download any attachments!
- Check with authorities on charities: Charitynavigator.org is a free website that evaluates charities in the US run by a 501(c)(3) that doesn’t accept donations from the organizations it investigates. Charitywatch and the Better Business Bureau offer similar services to help you make the best choice where you donate.
- Double check their status: The IRS has a website that lets you check an organization’s tax-exempt status. If the charity you’re considering donating to isn’t on it, it could be a red flag.
- Take your time and make a record: Scammers are especially effective at creating a sense of urgency: the less time you have to think, the more likely you are to be fooled. Take the time to research an organization, never donate with cash, and keep records of what you gave and to whom.
It’s a sad fact that the giving spirit of the holiday season attracts scammers, but it needn’t keep you from donating to the less fortunate. Keep a clear head and you can be sure that the money you provide gets to a deserving subject rather than lining the pockets of an unscrupulous one.