Well… it’s the season of decorating… and party going… and spending time with family and friends. Of course, if you can squeeze all of that in to a few weeks that is. It’s also the time for giving – both in terms of charitable donations as well as volunteering your time. Fake charities, though? It’s sad, but also a reality. Wait, fake charities are a thing? The story begins after I managed to convince my husband to bring up all the Christmas tree and holiday decorations from the garage. The amount of sighing and struggling up the stairs was immense; the bartering to get him to do it was off the charts. So what was I doing instead? Scrolling through Facebook. You wouldn’t believe the number of GoFundMe accounts, charitable contribution requests and more that popped up and are still popping up in my feed. Unless you’re scrolling through Facebook as well, in which case you know what I’m talking about. Yes, fake charities are very real Since I’m working for Allen & Company — an organization that constantly tries to make a profound and positive difference in the communities we serve — it’s hard to ignore some of these requests. At the same time, I’ve read many stories about people being scammed by bogus charities, and even bogus accounts on legit sites like GoFundMe. There’s even a hashtag I saw recently: #badcharitiestodonateto. Why, people? WHY? It’s truly sad. Thankfully, it’s easy to tell the ones that are intentionally just trying to get a laugh, at least: United Appeal for Invisible Friends The Special Committee for the Conservation of Special Committees Misplaced Apostrophe’s Anonymous’s The Association for Not Scrutinizing Public Farting Mothers Against Coming to a Complete Stop at 4-Way Intersections, But Then Inching Forward Until Cross Traffic Can’t Really Get Past You So You Might as Well Just Drive Through Already, For Crying Out Loud To be honest, I would consider donating to some of these. Maybe “Fashion Police” or “Save The Elderly Kitties.” How to spot fake charities Ok, just kidding. Back to serious-ville: While deciding where you would like your donations to go, how do you tell which charities are truly fake and which ones are legit? Check The IRS Nonprofit Charities Database. Specifically, the “Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool” allows you to enter the name of an organization and see if the organization is exempt or not. There are other online sites, such as Charity which rates charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency to help donors make informed decisions about their contributions. Charity Navigator has evaluated thousands of tax-exempt charities. If your chosen organization is not included, you should be sure to look deeper. Be careful of charity names that sound similar — but are not the same – as those of a well-known charity. Be choosy and select the causes you really want to support. Don’t just respond to the first appeal you receive and do your research. Understand that charities have administrative costs. If an organization claims that 100% of your donation will go straight to victims or resources, this might be cause for concern. Be careful when giving your credit card number over the phone, or to an organization that only wants cash donations. Legitimate organizations typically have options for donating securely. Never donate to an organization that asks for cash or a wire transfer, or that asks for personal information beyond a normal credit card transaction. These agencies DO NOT need your Social Security number! Be careful about donating via text message. Make sure you know which organization is receiving your donation and follow the instructions carefully. Be leery of emails or telemarketers thanking you for previous donations that you don’t remember making. This is a big sign of a potential scam. If you received something like this via email – don’t click any links or images, don’t open the email, and don’t open any attachments. Make sure you check your bank statement and verify you were charged exactly the amount you intended to give. You should also check that there is no regularly recurring charge, unless you agreed to it. Do not enter a sweepstakes in return for a donation; it’s not legal for organizations to offer this. When in doubt: consider a non-cash donation, such as food or clothing. Giving to charity: lead with your heart… but do your research With almost $100 billion donated around the world in just the last two days of the year, this is truly the season of giving. However, you don’t want to let a malicious or fake charity take advantage of your good will or compromise your personal or financial info while they’re at it. Overall, you should feel good — and safe — when you contribute to charity! For more information on safe online giving, read the FTC’s brochure: Donating Through an Online Giving Portal. December 2018 Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.