How to Avoid Holiday Scams & Charity Fraud
The holiday season comes with requests for toys and gifts of all shapes and sizes. In the hustle and bustle of the season, scammers are looking to take advantage.We’ve pulled together advice from the Federal Trade Commission and AARP to help you give and receive safely this holiday.
Charity ScamsYou might see headlines about mismanaged charities or outright fraud, leaving you with doubts about which nonprofits are legitimate and which ones are run only to help the scammers behind them. The solution is not to stop holiday giving, but instead to make donations wisely and after verifying sources.
1. Utilize Charity Watchdog GroupsHow do you determine if a charity is indeed legitimate? Watchdog websites, such as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch, monitor organizations for potential fraud. These websites use different criteria to rate charities, giving you multiple reviews of the charity you’re researching.
The watchdog sites also allow you to search by topic, top-rated charities and more.
Watchdog groups do not cover every charity. Research on more than one site before finalizing your donation.
The best course of action is to donate through a charity’s website. Check the website's address; most legitimate charity organization websites use .org, not .com.
2. Donate via the Charity's Official Website
Another best practice is to avoid following donation links from a social media post. Many scammers create links to spoof the real website.
Even if you’re asked to donate in person by a professional fundraiser, verify they are an authorized representative by reaching out to the organization via the contact information provided on their website. If the person is reluctant to provide the information or pressures you to donate immediately, they could be a scammer.
If writing a check, never make checks payable to an individual fundraiser. Make sure to use the organization’s name. Check your credit card statements to make sure you’re not being charged for a recurring donation
Knowing that busyness can cause people to not pay close attention, scammers will use a familiar charity name to commit fraud. By adding words like “national” or “original,” they pose as a legitimate nonprofit with a copycat website or logo.
3. Watch for Copycats
Believing the charity sounds like one you’ve heard of before, you click a link and may inadvertently visit a malicious website or donate to a fraudulent cause.
It’s good practice to search for a charity’s name along with “reviews” to check for headlines about related scams.
Neighborhood and community Facebook groups often have people asking for donations of money or goods because they’re down on their luck. Their stories pull at your heartstrings, but be wary of meeting up with strangers or giving money without vetting their story. If it seems too good to be true, it could be a social media scam.
4. Social media scams
It’s best to donate to a trusted local organization that can distribute toys and food to those in need.
Other Holiday Scams
Job scamsPicking up a part-time job during the busy shopping season is a common occurrence. Scammers know this, too, and have been known to create fake job listings. Job seekers should only give personal information, especially direct deposit information, to an official source. Visit or call the business to ensure the job listing is legitimate before sharing any personal details.
Gift Card ScamsGift cards are an easy stocking stuffer or a last-minute gift. They are, however, often used by scammers to obtain funds. Only purchase gift cards from official retailers, not flea markets or other unauthorized markets. Don’t fall for “claim your free gift card” offers on social media, even if the advertisement features well-known brands. Clicking on these types of offers could lead you to a website with malicious spyware or a scammer who wants to steal personal information like your name and email.
Handmade or antique gifts are a unique way to show extra love during the holiday season. You might find a vendor or maker online through social media or another online marketplace. When it comes time to pay them for the item, be wary of fraud.
Vendors may ask for payment via peer-to-peer payments, also known as P2P – more commonly known as apps like Zelle, Paypal or Venmo. If you do plan to use P2P to purchase a gift, check to see if your payment app allows you to link a credit card rather than a debit card or bank account. Often times your credit card offers additional protection in case you do not receive the goods or services that you have purchased.
Some ‘Don’ts’ to RememberDon’t give personal and financial information such as your Social Security number, date of birth or bank account number to anyone soliciting a donation.
Don’t contribute to a fundraiser with cash, gift card or wire transfer.
Don’t donate by text without confirming the number on the charity’s official website.
What can I do if there is charity fraud?If you or someone you know does become a victim of charity fraud, you can Contact your state consumer protection office. You can also report the fraud to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or report online fraud to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. You’ll need information including how you were approached to donate, whether by email, social media, text or phone call; the name of the group or person they said were raising money for; the date you sent your donation; how much you donated.
Giving what you can to those in need makes the holiday season feel brighter. If your family wants to contribute to a cause, take a few extra minutes to validate a charity so your donation does in fact help others.
Learn more about protecting you and your family from fraud.