The Holidays Are Prime Time for Charity Scams
After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when many of us shop for holiday gifts, comes Giving Tuesday. This is a day when we’re encouraged to get into the true spirit of the holidays by donating to our favorite charitable causes.
But just as we should be sure we’re dealing with reputable businesses when we’re buying holiday gifts, we should also be sure the charities we give to are legitimate. There are all kinds of con artists out there just waiting to take advantage of our kind hearts. And the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging notes that older adults may be at higher risk of falling for the wiles of these crooks who seek to exploit their generous nature.
Phony charities divert billions of dollars each year that could be going to a good cause. They might even steal your credit card number or other sensitive personal data. Here are some of the most common scams we might encounter:
Disaster fraud. As soon as coverage of a natural disaster or other tragedy appears on the news, charitable organizations spring up to help the victims. This year, maybe you’re considering donating to the victims of the California wildfires or Hurricane Dorian. But the National Center for Disaster Fraud warns that crooks may set up fake “help the victims” charity appeals. Before you give, check out the charity first, whether the request comes by mail, by email, by phone call or a crowdfunding link from Facebook.
Fake veterans and emergency responder charities. We all want to help those who selflessly serve our nation. Taking advantage of this, crooks have formed fraudulent charities that actually give little or no money to the veterans, law enforcement agencies and fireman in whose name they are collecting. AARP offers advice for avoiding fake veterans charities, and the FTC has offers information about phony “badge charities.”
Sound-alikes. When a solicitor asks for a charitable donation, pay close attention to the name of the organization. Crooks often collect under a phony name that’s designed to fool us. Knowing the American Heart Association is a respected, genuine foundation, a con artist might send an appeal from “The Heart Association of America.” The Alzheimer’s Association is highly rated, but be sure you aren’t giving to a group that mimics the association’s colors and logo and uses a similar name.
How can we be sure our heard-earned money is going to a reputable charity?
Begin by setting up a personal giving plan for the year, and stick to it. Carefully choose the causes you want to support. If you’re approached by a solicitor, request that they leave information with you. Then check out the organization before adding them to your giving list. As the Better Business Bureau says, “Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.”
Then, resist the temptation to make impulsive donations. A fancy brochure, an official-looking website, a TV commercial that tugs our heartstrings or a persuasive phone call might move us to pull out our credit card right away. Instead, check out the charity online—try the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator. Your state attorney general may have information on local organizations.
Remember, a “volunteer” who calls you or comes to the door may actually be paid a salesperson carefully trained to use a fictional hard luck story to get you to donate. It’s not bad manners to hang up the phone or close the door with a firm “no thank you.”
The urge to help others is a powerful human impulse. How much better we will feel about our holiday giving when we know we are genuinely helping those in need, rather than supporting a crook’s lavish lifestyle!