How to Avoid Charity Scams This Holiday Season

How to Avoid Charity Scams This Holiday Season

Jim Wilcox – AVP, Risk Operations, Affinity Federal Credit Union

The holiday season is a time for giving back to the community and to people in need throughout the world. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when fraudsters target people looking to donate to charity. That yearly combination of enhanced generosity and being busy all the time can make you fall for scams that pretend to solicit money for worthy causes. This year, there’s the added risk of the COVID-19 pandemic having led to a notable increase in the number of fake charity scams in operation. According to the FBI1, “Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both.” These COVID scams have come in the form of phishing emails, social media messages and fraudulent phone calls asking for money or personal information, often related to government financial relief, fake health information or requests for charitable donations.
person on laptop

It’s obviously a good thing to be generous this time of year if you have the financial means to give back, especially when so many families are going through difficulties. But it pays to be aware of how people soliciting funds for a good cause could actually be trying to deceive you. Here are three tips for avoiding a holiday related charity scam this year.

1. Do background research on the charity asking for your money. For scammers, the internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows them to reach more victims than ever before, often tailoring their scams to individuals, targeted by way of studying their social media pages and personal information. On the other hand, the internet allows you to research whatever organization is asking for your money. If you can’t find any website or online reference to the charity in question, it’s probably fake. If you do find the charity online, do further research about what they do, where donors’ money goes and what other donors (as well as watchdogs like Charity Navigator2) have said about it. Often, the charity might technically be real but may have a bad reputation for siphoning off money to those who run it, rather than helping those in need.

2. Avoid giving money or personal information via email, phone or text. If you’re inclined to donate to a charity, do so via an official website. If you’re solicited via email, a legitimate charity should send you a link to such a website rather than asking for financial information on the spot. If you get a phone call or text asking for money, be safe and ask them to direct you to a website where you can evaluate the organization and make a secure donation electronically. To confirm that the site is secure, check the URL in your address bar to make sure it starts with https rather than http. The extra “s” means that it is a secure site, and you can feel reasonably safe about putting in credit card or bank account information to make your donation. The donation page for the Affinity Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping vulnerable populations thrive towards financial independence, for instance, contains the “https,” and will always direct donors to this secure site rather than soliciting credit card information over the phone.

3. Review your account afterward – and keep doing so regularly. Sometimes people put in their financial information to make a one-time donation and instead are charged regularly, either because they’ve been misled or made a mistake and agreed to a recurring charge. Don’t wait for your credit card or bank account statement to arrive in the mail; check your account to ensure you’ve been charged the exact amount to which you agreed and keep checking regularly to avoid repeat charges. This can be done easily through online banking, mobile banking or automated telephone banking, all of which are provided by Affinity.

Again, we at Affinity urge you to contribute to those in need within your means, but we also want you to have a safe holiday season and avoid any scams that might be lurking out there. Following these three tips is a great start!

                                                   

This information is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person’s circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments regarding the matters related to your condition are made.  

1 Retrieved from https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA200320

2 Retrieved from https://give.charitynavigator.org/