How to Avoid Holiday Scams & Charity Fraud
The holiday season comes with requests for toys and gifts of all shapes and sizes.It also comes with requests for donations and charitable giving from local, national and international organizations.
You might see headlines about mismanaged charities or outright fraud, leaving you with doubts about which nonprofits are legitimate and which ones are run only to help the scammers behind them. The solution is not to stop holiday giving, but instead to make donations wisely and after verifying sources.
We’ve pulled together advice from the Federal Trade Commission and AARP to help you give wisely this season.
1. Utilize Charity Watchdog GroupsHow do you find out if a charity is indeed legitimate? Watchdog websites, such as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch, monitor organizations for potential fraud. These websites use different criteria to rate charities, giving you multiple reviews of the charity you’re researching. The watchdog sites also allow you to search by topic, top-rated charities and more. Watchdog groups do not cover every charity in the U.S., so you may want to search on a couple of sites before making up your mind.
2 Donate via the Charity's Official WebsiteThe best course of action is to donate through a charity’s website. Check the website's address; most legitimate charity organization websites use .org, not .com. Another best practice is to avoid following donation links from a social media post. Many scammers create links to spoof the real website.
Even if you’re asked to donate in person by a professional fundraiser, you should contact the charity to be sure the person is an authorized fundraiser. If the person is reluctant to provide the information or pressures you to donate immediately, they could be a savvy scammer pretending to be a part of the charity.
If writing a check, never make checks payable to an individual fundraiser. Make sure to use the organization’s name. If using a credit card, it’s wise to check your account statements to make sure you’re not being charged for a recurring donation unless you agreed to sign up for monthly or annual contributions.
3. Confirm How Your Money Will Be UsedMany worthwhile charities won't appear on any watchdog safe lists because they are just too small to monitor. That doesn't automatically mean they are not real charities or that you should not support them.
However, before giving money to any local charity not on a watchdog safe list, do yourself a favor and double check with the people the charity claims to be helping. Besides making sure the charity is legitimate, you may discover that bypassing the charity and donating directly to the organization or individual in need is the better option.
When giving to a larger organization, it’s acceptable to ask how much of your donation goes for general administration and fundraising expenses and how much is left for the services you want to support. CharityWatch advises that an efficient charity should be spending 75 percent or more on programs and services.
If you or someone you know does become a victim of charity fraud, you can contact your state consumer protection office. You can also report the fraud to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or report online fraud to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. You’ll need information including how you were approached to donate, whether by email, social media, text or phone call; the name of the group or person they said were raising money for; the date you sent your donation; how much you donated.
What can I do if there is charity fraud?
Giving what you can to those in need makes the holiday season feel brighter. If your family wants to contribute to a cause, take a few extra minutes to validate a charity so your donation does in fact help others.
Learn more about protecting you and your family from fraud.