holiday donation scams‘Tis the season to be generous. With the holidays right around the corner, many of us are thinking about those who are less fortunate and wanting to give what we can to help them out. While the act of donating is a noble one, the sad truth about this time of year is that there are those who want to prey on your kindness. Holiday donation scams are everywhere, and even typically suspicious people might not realize they’re being taken advantage of. The good news is, there are ways you can tell the scams apart from the real deal and protect yourself.

Why is the holiday season great for scammers?

Charitable organizations receive the bulk of their annual donations during the months of October through December, according to Charity Navigator, a website dedicated to helping people avoid shady charities. Above all else, this time of year inspires a desire to give back and offer charity to people and causes that are near and dear to our hearts. Charities know this and amp up their efforts during this time period as a result. In addition to the spirit of giving, many charitable donations are made at the end of the year to take advantage of tax deductions. Those who might not donate during the rest of the year often pull out their wallets in hopes of boosting their refund.

Because people are so used to seeing and hearing about charities during this time of year, they are going to be more open to listening to a holiday donation sales pitch. Scammers know this and take full advantage of this generosity and openness. Additionally, those who are hoping to get their donations made in time to count for tax deductions in the current year might be more willing to skip the research and donate blind.

How can you protect yourself from holiday donation scams?

No one wants to be scammed, but especially not during the holiday season. Follow these tips to avoid falling for a holiday donation scam.

1. Don’t cave to pressure. A holiday donation scammer might make it seem like if you don’t donate right that minute, you won’t be able to donate at all. If the charity is legitimate, that just isn’t the case! Although you might feel pressured by a person on the phone or in front of you, scammers are going to count on flustered victims handing over credit card info or money under pressure. Instead of donating right away, ask for information such as a website or the charity’s contact information and do some research on your own. If the person refuses to provide any information or becomes insistent that you have to donate right that second, they are probably trying to scam you.

2. Do your research. If you’re thinking about donating to a charity, the best thing you can do to make sure it is a legitimate organization is to do some research. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance provides information on thousands of charities, big and small, across the country. You can also check with the IRS to ensure that the charity has filed reports about how its funds are allocated. Just as important as ensuring a charity is legitimate is making sure that it does not misuse funds.

During your research, it is a good idea to find out what percentage of your donation will actually go to the cause you want to support. Some charities only give a fraction of the money received, while keeping the majority as profit. The same applies to the donation of goods — especially pricier items such as cars. If a charity claims to support injured firefighters, you should make sure that most of your donation is going toward actually helping firefighters rather than padding the charity’s board members’ pockets.

3. Take care when visiting charity websites. Oftentimes, scammers will purchase websites with similar names to the charity they want to emulate in hopes of catching people who mistype a URL. The sites will often look very similar to the legitimate website, but there are ways to tell if you are on the correct site or not. First, be careful that you are typing the correct URL. You can make sure you visit the correct site by performing a web search on Google and clicking on the link from there, rather than typing it in yourself or clicking on a link from an email. Some organizations do solicit donations through email, postal mail or telemarketing, but it is still a good practice to be cautious when you’re looking at a website — before making that donation.

4. Never give your information out, especially over the phone. Most organizations will accept checks or cash. Be suspicious of any charity that insists on only accepting donation by credit card, and never give anyone your credit card information over the phone or in an email. Holiday donation scams can be responsible for identity theft in addition to theft of your money. Making donations by check is the smartest way to donate — not only will it keep your credit card data safe, but it gives you a definite record of payment that cash donations won’t. Also, when writing a check make sure that it is made out to the organization and not an individual. This helps ensure your money will be going into the proper hands when the check is cashed.

5. Be wary of “crowd funding” and other non-organization donations. Not all holiday donation scams come from people pretending to be charities. In recent years, especially with the advent of social media and websites like GoFundMe, it has become more popular for individuals and families to request donations from friends and strangers alike online. While a lot of these pleas for help are legitimate, this can also be a way for unscrupulous individuals to exploit the charity of others during the holiday season. If you’d like to give in this manner, do some research into the person or family requesting money to be sure they are in need.

Although it is important to stay smart about donations, you shouldn’t let fears of holiday donation scams prevent you from giving this holiday season. You can stay informed about the latest in identity theft news and learn more about keeping yourself safe by following our identity theft protection blog.