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Real or Fake? How to Choose a Charity

November 17, 2016

The holiday season is upon us, and after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many people will dig deep for Giving Tuesday, the international day to donate to charities large and small. Big-hearted Americans gave a record-breaking $373 billion to charity in 2015. But as you consider your charitable giving, use your head because there are scammers out there looking to cash in on your generosity.

Real or Fake? How to Choose a Charity

Con artists can use fake charities to enrich themselves or even to steal personal information. Charitable giving is often an emotional decision, so fake charities abound after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other heart-wrenching events. Fraudsters also often pose as charities, pretending to help police, fireman, and military families.

Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission and other watchdog groups to help make sure you are giving to a legitimate charity.

  • Check the name carefully. Scammers will often use a name that is very close to the name of a real charity. For example, if you search “Save the Children” on the Charity Navigator site, seven similarly named organizations come up, only one of which is rated as a legitimate non-profit.
  • Confirm where the charity uses your dollars. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving AllianceCharity NavigatorCharity Watch, and GuideStar all maintain lists of legitimate charities and track how much of your donation actually goes to charitable work as opposed to fund-raising and administration.
  • Never send cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen, so send a check, which also serves as a receipt for your tax return. The charity should also send you a separate acknowledgement of your donation. Also, never send money overseas. Legitimate international charities will be represented by a U.S. non-profit that makes sure of where the money goes and also allows you to get a U.S tax deduction.
  • Beware of telemarketers thanking you for “previous donations.” Fake charities use this tactic to make you think you have already supported them. If you have doubts, ask the caller for their website and look them up on one of the charity rating sites.
  • Be careful opening emails from charities. And never open or download an attachment in a charity email. Legitimate charities don’t solicit donations by email except to correspond with regular donors, but cyber criminals have used fake charity emails to spread malware.

The U.S. leads the world in charitable giving, so good for us and keep up the good work. To make your giving even safer and more convenient, consider giving through an organization that vets charities such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, or Alternative Gifts International. These sites allow you to “shop” through a catalog of legitimate charities to find the causes nearest to your heart. They allow you to donate to multiple charities in one convenient payment (with one receipt for your taxes) and they even supply gift cards to tell your loved ones you’ve made a donation in their honor. And isn’t giving the best gift of all?