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It’s a great thing to want to help others, and making donations to charity is one great way to aid people in need. Giving to charity can bring about numerous benefits for causes and the people and places they benefit, but just like many things in life, donors should consider risk before giving. Scammers and unscrupulous groups use proven methods and continuously seek new ways to trick those interested in donating to charity. Attackers continue to race to the bottom. Therefore, it is imperative that as you prepare to give to good causes, you educate yourself on how to avoid being duped by fake charities and thieves. Consider the following helpful tips before you donate to a charity.
1. Research the Charity
When considering donating to charity, it’s important to first research the charity to which you’re interested in giving. Doing your due diligence with this first step can help lower the risk that often comes with charitable giving. Do an online search for ratings and reviews for charities you’re interested in donating to. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a simple internet search of a charity’s name followed by words like “ratings” “reviews” or “complaints” to see what details have been shared online can provide you with helpful information. If any of the online reviews concern you or if a charity you’re considering donating to has an excessive number of complaints, you may want to learn more about the charity or even reconsider your donation. You can also utilize sites such as CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar or others to help conduct research on charities and make sure they are legitimate. To ensure your gift supports a cause you care about a not a criminal, make an informed decision.
2. Choose a Secure Payment Method
When donating to charity, the form of payment you choose can make a big difference. To best protect yourself from would-be schemers, use a credit card or check when donating to a cause. These payment forms are much easier to trace and keep track of. Conversely, the Federal Trade Commission warns that donations using payment forms such as cash, wiring money, or gift cards should always be avoided, as these forms are often associated with schemes. Make sure to keep records of all donations you give and to check your credit card or bank statements to make sure that only the amount you intended to donate has been withdrawn or charged. Follow-up to ensure the charity received your gift, as you intended, nothing more and nothing less.
3. Be Aware of Common Scamming Behaviors
To avoid being scammed when giving to charity, it is helpful to know some of the common tricks criminals employ. First, be aware that some scammers will create charity names that sound similar to legitimate, well-known charities. Next, remember that dishonest charities often only offer vague details about how your money will be used. Legitimate charities are ones that can give details about funds and have a proven record of the largest proportion of donations being used toward the cause. Third, beware of groups that offer excessive prizes or sweepstakes-like winnings in exchange for a donation—as such incentivizing is suspicious and, in some cases, illegal—according to the FTC. Also remember that there is a difference between tax deductible and tax exempt, and make sure to check the tax deductible status of charities here. Last, be wary of persons who try to rush you into making a decision about donating, and watch out for causes who try to trick you into donating by saying you’ve already donated in the past. Although other telltale signs of scams exist, the aforementioned are common ones for which you should be on the lookout.
4. Report Attempted Scams
Finally, if you have the unfortunate and frustrating experience of becoming the victim of a charity scam, it’s essential that you report the incident. Your report could help others avoid the same fate. For federal reporting of a charity donation scam, head to FTC.gov/complaint, and for state reporting, visit nasconet.org.
Giving to charity is a kind act, but it’s important to know what risks are involved. Make sure to take proper precautions to avoid being scammed. Confirming your donation is truly going to a good cause is crucial. If you take the time research the charity, pay securely, identify warning signs, and report scams, your generosity will help others and defeat the criminals.
Jeffrey Julig is Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for SWBC. In this role, he leads a team of security professionals to protect SWBC’s diverse lines of business from internal and external cyber threats. Jeffrey is passionate about information security and privacy and belongs to numerous international, national, and local professional and community organizations. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity from the University of Maryland University College and earned several of the information security industry’s most respected certifications, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and Law of Data Security and Investigations (GIAC-GLEG) certifications. Jeffrey attended the Department of Defense Cybercrime Investigations Training Academy (DCITA) and is a certified digital forensics examiner.