The holiday season brings out the best in most of us. It is a time for giving that often extends beyond your loved ones to charitable causes that you care about. In fact, it is estimated that nearly one-third of all charitable donations happen in December. With that estimate, it’s no surprise that cybercriminals pose as fake charities in an attempt to steal money from generous donors and the causes they care about.
How Holiday Charity Scams Work
While there are many legitimate charities that do very important work, there will always be scammers looking to take advantage of people’s goodwill—especially around the holidays when giving is at an all time high. Using names that closely resemble well-known charities, scammers create phishing emails and fake websites that solicit donations under the guise of charitable causes that people are passionate about—such as veterans, children or animal welfare.
Warning Signs of a Holiday Charity Scam
Although scammers mimic charities that support different causes, they all follow the same basic methods. Be alert to these warning signs if you plan to make a donation this holiday season:
- You receive a message thanking you for a donation that you don’t remember making.
- The messaging is vague, pushy or aggressive.
- When you ask questions, they are unable to give basic information about the charity and its work.
- You are asked to make a donation using a gift card or money transfer app—such as Zelle, PayPal or Venmo. Legitimate charities will usually give you the option to pay by credit card or check.
- You are asked to provide personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account number. A legitimate charity will not ask for this type of information.
How to Avoid Holiday Charity Scams
There are a few steps you can take to make sure your donation goes directly to those in need:
- Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation. Ask them how your donation will be used and if you will be able to receive a receipt for tax deduction purposes. If they can’t answer these questions, move on. It’s a scam.
- Look up the charity you plan to donate to on a reliable directory such as GuideStar or Charity Navigator. You can also search these directories by keyword—such as “veterans” or “animal welfare”—to find a reputable nonprofit that supports the cause that is near and dear to your heart.
- Always use a credit card when making any type of transaction online, including donations. This payment method offers the best loss protection. If they ask you to donate using gift cards or money transfer apps, that’s a telltale sign that it’s a scam.
Don’t let holiday charity scams scare you away from supporting the cause you care about during the season of giving. Make informed decisions by asking questions, doing your research, and paying for donations using credit cards—which will give you the most protection against scammers. If you happen to come across a charity that seems fake, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.FTC.gov.