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Donation Scams: How to Protect Yourself and Your Money

Charities that provide food, shelter, and other necessities are strapped for cash. Schools need money to buy computers for students. Your friend’s uncle’s next-door-neighbor has taken out a mortgage on her house to buy N95 masks for hospitals and, hey, can you donate?

The hardship situations may be from the most honest people who are truly suffering from the greatest need, but some of them are not real, and you could end up giving money to someone who just wants to rip you off.

To make sure your donations go to those who really need help, follow these guidelines on how to donate safely and avoid scams.

  • Think before you click. Before reaching for your wallet, consider what you are about to do and if there are any potential consequences. Can you afford to give money right now? What organizations need your help the most? If you give to this person, what will happen if someone else you care about needs money later on? Could this be fraud? It is ok to take some time to consider where, how, and who you want to help, if now is the right time to do it, or if you need to wait until your next paycheck. If the need is real, they will be happy to wait for your donation.
  • Give to an established charity. To make sure your donation will be put to good use, give money to a registered public 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that you know and trust. If you are not familiar with an organization, look them up on CharityNavigator.org or Guidestar.org. These sites provide information about the legitimacy and financial histories of non-profit entities.
  • Verify fundraisers and crowdfunding. Before giving to any campaign on GoFundMe.com or some other fundraising site, ask yourself: have I ever met the people I am donating to? Do I know and trust the creator of the campaign? If you answer no to either question, you may want to reconsider your donation. If you are still compelled to give, do an online search about the people and/or organization involved in the campaign. You may discover other people have already posted warnings.
  • Never donate over the phone. If someone calls to request a donation, ask them to send you information through the mail – snail mail, not email. If they are unable to do this, ask for the organization’s name, website, and tax identification number or EIN, then hang up and do some online research.

Emergencies have a tendency to make us react without thinking things through, which is why donation fraud is so common during a crisis. To protect yourself and make sure your money goes to where it will do the most good, carefully consider each donation request and avoid impulses to give to everyone.

For more tips on how to donate safely, visit CharityNavigator.org or Guidestar.org.

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