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Avoiding Charity Scams During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of joy and giving for many. As the world returns to the closest semblance of normal that seems possible, some seek to once again take advantage of a time of warm feelings and giving hearts.

Americans are known for giving hundreds of billions each year to various charitable organizations and causes. The proliferation of online charities and giving money over the phone to charitable causes makes the donations even easier.

It only follows that unscrupulous scammers will follow the money and attempt to siphon off a portion of the goodwill of others. Unfortunately, it can be an all-too lucrative practice. And while you should not have to worry or even verify each charity to which you donate, the reality is that you should be aware of how to spot holiday charity scams. The holiday season is traditionally a time of year when people donate more money to causes and scammers work even harder to take advantage of this trend.

Scammers Prey on Emotions

Key to understanding the anatomy of the typical scam is that effective scammers always attempt to harness emotions. Phishing scams and other social style attacks seek to drive a user to make a quick, emotional decision. Similarly, charitable scams seek to tug at your heartstrings. If you feel driven to give to a cause, then that can be a powerful emotion for a scam.

Scammers not only rob you, but they rob money from those most in need. Instead of being afraid to make a donation, however, educating yourself on how scammers work can go a long way in preventing their scams from succeeding.

 Here are three ways to avoid giving to a holiday scam rather than a holiday charity: 

  1. Avoid all unsolicited emails, social media messages, or phone calls asking for a donation. Messages via email and social media can contain malware, but they’re also a common means of contact for scammers. Be especially leery if the contact refers to a past donation that you cannot remember making. A common trick is to make you feel more comfortable by alleging that you previously donated to the same charity.
  2. Ignore high-pressure tactics to give right now. Remember that scammers like to prey upon emotions. Just like the pressure to buy something, the pressure to give can feel quite strong in the moment. Any legitimate charitable organization will welcome your donation at any time, and they won’t pressure you into an on-the-spot donation. If you hear frustration in the voice of the representative when you defer to give a donation, this can be evidence of a scam.
  3. Do not donate via cash, gift card, or wire transfer. Scammers prefer payments that are difficult to track and recover. Asking for donations in the form of cash, gift card, or wire transfer when online or over the phone is a highly suspicious move.

If you are ever uncertain about a charity, especially if they have reached out to you, hang up or disengage from the conversation and simply visit their website. Do not rely on information provided by the person who contacted you, but use independent sources to verify the status. You can then establish communication with a phone number or other form of contact straight from the trusted website to make sure your donation gets to the right place.

Other Ways to Verify a Charity

There are other ways to verify a charity and be more certain about where your donation is actually going. It is a good idea to spend some time familiarizing yourself with your chosen charity, to both make sure that it is legitimate and that the money is going to those who need it most.

Use search engines like Google and Bing to search for the name of the charity plus “review,” “complaint,” “scam,” “rating,” “fraud,” or any other term you wish to research. If you find bad reviews, then look for another alternative. Ratings and other information can shed much light on the subject. The absence of any information is also another indicator that the charity is not legitimate.

Furthermore, websites like the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, CharityWatch and Charity Navigator offer information and ratings on charities. You can also verify tax-exempt status with the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. And, last but not least, the FTC provides a helpful list of information to consider prior to donating to a charity.

Here at First Palmetto Bank, we want holiday donations to go to the places where they are needed. The best approach is to trust your instincts when it comes to charitable donations. Do not ever feel pressured into making a donation. Instead, take your time and find the right charity or charities for which you are comfortable, and donate via a safe, secure, and trusted method.