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 GroupsWatchdog 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.
Many worthwhile charities won't appear on any watchdog safe lists because they are just too small to monitor. That doesn't automatically mean they are not real charities or that you should not support them.
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, you should contact the charity to be sure the person is an authorized fundraiser. If the person is reluctant to provide the information or pressures you to donate immediately, they could be a savvy scammer pretending to be a part of the charity.
If writing a check, never make checks payable to an individual. Make sure to use the organization’s name. If using a credit card, it’s wise to check your account statements to make sure you’re not being charged for a recurring donation unless you agreed to sign up for monthly or annual contributions.
3. Confirm How Your Money Will Be UsedIt’s acceptable to ask how much of your donation goes for general administration and fundraising expenses and how much is left for the services you want to support. CharityWatch advises that an efficient charity should be spending 75 percent or more on programs and services.
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.