The Heart of Giving: How to Safely Give to Charities

Those who give to charities have the biggest hearts. Unfortunately, some scammers don't, so it is important to take a few precautions to ensure that the money you are giving goes to the reputable organization you intend to help.  


Why Safe Donations Matter

When donating to charities, safe donations matter. Doing your research to ensure you are giving to a legitimate cause lets you know your money is going to a reputable organization that will use it for good things. It also helps keep those charities accountable so good deeds can make a true impact on those in need.

4 Tips to Research Charities

1. Online Search Strategies  

Finding a reputable organization where your donation will be appreciated and make a difference is key. For example, if you’d like to donate money to help abandoned pets in your area, try online search phrases like “best pet rescue” or “reputable no-kill animal shelter” to narrow your search. Once you have chosen the charity, do a thorough search on the organization using keyword phrases like “complaint,” “scam,” or “fraud” that may bring red flags to your attention.  


2. Website Evaluation 

Be sure to visit the website of the charity you are considering. Their mission, programs, and how donations will be used should be clear. It's a red flag if the website doesn't contain detailed information about its programs and how your money will support the cause.   This tells you more research is needed to ensure the organization's validity. In addition, their web address should be accurate with no misspelled titles. Also, most reputable charities often use a .org website instead of .com.


3. Charity Research Organizations 

There are a variety of watchdog websites that make it easy to find valid charities for donations. These sites can help you research charities to ensure you are contributing to a worthy cause. Knowing that your preferred charity has an up-to-date profile on one of these sites lets you have peace of mind that you are working with a legit charity versus a scammer.


4. Check Registration and Tax Deductibility

Many states require that charities and nonprofits register with the state regulator. Confirming they are registered with the state's charity regulator is a savvy move before you donate. In addition, check the tax deductibility of your donation if you are planning a tax write-off. This will confirm that the charity is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization, which also vouches for its validity. 


How To Handle Phone Calls Asking for Donations

Questions to Ask 

  1. What is the exact name of the charity, the website, and the mailing address?  Be sure to confirm this information.
  2. Some charities hire paid fundraisers, which can be expensive.  How much of your donation will go to the charity?
  3. In addition to the programs, what other things are donations spent on?  
  4. Will your donation be tax-deductible? You can look up the charity on the IRS website to be sure.  
  5. Are the donations for an actual charity/cause, or is this a Political Action Committee (PAC?)  Donations to individuals and PACs are not tax deductible, and how they use the money may differ from a charity.

Rules for Fundraisers 

  1. Fundraising calls are allowed even if your number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. If you want the calls to stop, ask them to put you on the charity's do not call list.
  2. Calls can only be made from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  3. The name and purpose of the call must be disclosed. 
  4. Lies cannot be told about a fundraiser's connection to a charity, the charity's mission, the tax-deductible status of a donation, how your donation will be used or how much will go to the charity, and the charity's affiliation with the government.
  5. Robocalls/prerecorded messages cannot be used except for prior donors, and everyone must be given an opt-out feature. 
  6. Caller ID must show the name of the charity as well as a visible phone number that can be used to call to be added to the charity's do not call list.


Signs of Dishonesty 

  1. Be cautious of a charity representative without proper ID, such as a name badge or branded marketing materials. 
  2. Charities that require cash-only donations are questionable. 
  3. Be careful of unsolicited emails asking for donations.
  4. Pressure to make an instant donation is likely a scam.  

How to Make Secure Payments

After you've completed your research and feel confident that the charity is legit, it's time to donate. The safest way to pay is by credit card or check. Don't pay with wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. If they say they don't accept checks or credit cards, it's likely a scam. 
If you're donating online, make sure the webpage where you enter your payment information has "https" in the web address. "https" means your information is encrypted and transmitted securely. 


How to Avoid Fake Charities

  • Don’t let anyone rush you into donating. Scammers rush you so that you won't take the time to research their claims or think things through.

  • Don’t trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. Calls can look like they come from your local area code or a specific organization, even if they don’t. In reality, the caller could be anywhere in the world.

  • If the fundraiser says you already pledged, stop and check. They may lie and say you already pledged or donated last year. They think that means you'll be more willing to donate.

  • Listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down, and then research it. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like other charities to trick you. Check out this list of fake "look-a-like" charities. Don't depend on the name. Do your research. Then Donate.
  • Watch out for sentimental claims with few details. Be suspicious if you hear a lot of vague sentimental claims, for example, that the charity helps many families that can’t afford cancer treatment and veterans wounded at war who can’t work, but don’t give specifics about how your donation will be used.

  • Don’t donate with a wire transfer or gift card. Anyone asking you to donate this way is a scammer.

  • Sweepstakes winning in exchange for a donation? Nope. If someone guarantees you’ll win a prize or contest if you contribute, that’s a scam. You won’t win anything, and your donation money will go to a scammer.


Donating on Social Media and Crowdfunding

Social media is filled with scammers, so unless you donate to people you know – be careful. Don't assume it is legitimate just because a friend shared the donation request. Contact your friend privately or offline to ask about the post they shared.
Check where the link to donate goes. Does it go to a crowdfunding organizer? Any money you give will go directly to the crowdfunding organizer if that's the case. Are you sure that person will pass the money on to the cause you want to support? Confirm with whoever posted the link that they know the person behind the fundraising.


Reporting Charity Scams


If you are the victim of a scam or think you may have discovered a fraudulent charity, it is important to report it. Scams should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your state charity regulator

Sharing this information will help end charity fraud and allow the donations to reach the intended recipients.

At Middlesex Federal, we take your security seriously. Providing you with information that can protect you from fraudulent activity is important to us. Check out our alerts and safeguards page; it has helpful tips and information you can use now.


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