charity scamWith the holidays in full swing, it’s officially gift giving and charity season. While it’s commendable to want to donate to charities this year, especially given all of the disasters which have occurred this past year, the unfortunate reality is charity season can become scam season if you’re not careful. Luckily, there are signs that can help you tell the difference between scams and real gift and donation campaigns, so you can rest easy knowing that your hard-earned money or goods are going to a legitimate cause. Keep reading to learn five tips to avoid charity scams this holiday season.

Don’t respond to unsolicited requests over phone, text or email

Given the prevalence of phishing and social engineering in today’s world, individuals should be wary of unsolicited messages sent from strangers. This is especially true of messages that make personal requests like clicking on links in text messages and emails, sending personal information through email or wiring money to a strange account. With that in mind, you’ll want to be suspicious of random donation requests from charities you have never previously donated to or don’t know of. If you feel the request to donate may be legitimate, it’s still best to avoid clicking on any links you’re sent, as you can never be too careful. Instead, you can Google the charity which has contacted you and verify the organization’s identity before donating on its legitimate website. Donating directly on the organization’s site after you’ve done your homework is the best way to make sure your donated funds aren’t lining a scammer’s pocket.

Be careful of solicitations in the real world, too

When you’re out shopping this holiday season, you might see people outside of storefronts asking for money or supporting causes. While it’s noble to want to hear these people out and make a small donation, you should know that sometimes scammers pose as volunteers working with reputable organizations when making requests for donations. Last year, for example, The Salvation Army warned of a scam involving fake volunteers asking for donations while pretending to be affiliated with the organization.

If you’re interacting with volunteers outside of a store, you should ask them questions that will allow them to demonstrate their affiliation with the organization they claim to represent before you give them money. If they’re working with a well-known organization, like The Salvation Army, they should have on a uniform and will not stalk or pester you for donations. If the volunteers are affiliated with a local or lesser-known organization, you can ask them to provide a mission statement or their web address. If you don’t feel comfortable with the information they provide, you can always check out their website later and research the legitimacy of their organization — note that this is usually the safest way to donate.

Use online resources to verify charities

While the Internet is the very medium that allows for most scams to propagate, it also simultaneously provides some of the tools needed to combat them. Before donating to any charity, you should use sites like the BBB’s, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar to verify the charity’s legitimacy. The FTC and consumer watchdog organizations also provide additional tips and resources to help you avoid fake charities.

Know the signs of a scam

Scammers and hackers use the same types of emotional appeals and requests on their targets. As such, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of scams so that you can better protect yourself. Keep in mind that the goal of any social engineering, phishing or scamming attempt is to get you to overreact or act inappropriately to information designed to provoke you into action.

Consider donating time or goods to local charities

If it seems like donating to charities is a lot more work than it used to be, don’t fret. When in doubt, remember that you can always choose to donate goods or time, rather than money, to a charity that you personally know within your own community. Alternatively, you can join volunteer organizations that will directly connect you with legitimate local charities. If you don’t know of any such organizations, you can also use sites like Meetup or community message boards to meet like-minded individuals and start your own volunteer group.

The holiday season is usually a joyous time, until a scammer strikes. For more information about steering clear of scammers this season, keep reading our identity theft protection blog.