Every year during the holidays, especially in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, people look for ways to give gifts, not only to family and friends, but also to those less fortunate. After all, the holidays do encourage the spirit of giving.
Unfortunately, some of the charities out there aren’t completely honest with how they spend the money they collect and don’t help out their causes as fully as they claim. Even worse, some fake organizations take advantage of those generous enough to donate by stealing credit card numbers, bank information, and even personal identities by tricking them into believing they are donating to a legitimate cause.
Don’t be discouraged from being generous this holiday season; just be a little extra cautious. Here are four tips you should follow to ensure your holiday donations are really helping make a difference.
1. Verify the charity is legitimate.
Maybe the name of the charity sounds official and you swear your friend has mentioned the name and what good work they do… or maybe the name sounds similar to another well-known organization? Before you donate, do a little bit of research on the organization. Check the organizations website to make sure it doesn’t seem suspicious and ask around if you have any questions. Some sources you can use to check the organization include Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, and Guide Star. Another good rule of thumb is to check if the organization has a 501(c)(3) status, which means they are a registered non-profit organization exempt giving from federal taxes. If you don’t feel comfortable with the organization or feel suspicious in any way, look for another charity that supports the same cause.
2. Steer clear of pop-up charities.
A pop-up charity is a so-called charity that “pops up” at convenient times such as during the holidays or right after a major disaster occurs. These fake charities are actually scams designed to steal money and personal information like credit car numbers, bank account information, and identities from unsuspecting donors. If you come across an organization that seemed to have appeared out of the blue, make sure you do you research to see if it is a legitimate organization, and if not, do not share any of your personal information with it.
3. Be careful with digital donations.
When donating online, make sure you correctly type in the website address. If you are giving a link to a website, make sure the donation link matches the general URL structure of the rest of the organization’s website. Fraudsters often put up realistic-looking sites using a URL similar to well-known charity’s but with slight changes to trick people into donating. One way to check if a website is secure is to look for “https” instead of “http” at the beginning of the URL.
4. Avoid phone and door-to-door solicitors.
If you receive a cold call or a knock on your front door asking for a contribution to an organization, you can ask them for the charity’s website or mailing address instead of donating right then and there so that you can ensure it is a legitimate organization. Even if the charity is real, you don’t know the intentions of the person collecting the money, and if they don’t seem to know information about the organization including contact information, they may be operating a scam to steal your money. It is always safer for you to donate through the charity’s secure website or by mailing a check. Another interesting detail is that when you fundraise over the phone, a middleman (the agent calling you) is required, and they must be paid which reduces the amount of your donation that goes to the charity.
It feels good to be in a giving mood during the holidays. With a little legwork to look into the legitimacy and practices of the charity, your donation will help others feel good too.
Contributor: Smruthi Sriram