’Tis the season to shop for holiday gifts and donate to worthy causes for a potential tax deduction — and to help those in need — before year’s end.
But when doling out dollars to charity, be careful. Crooks will take advantage of your generosity and steal your cash.
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“People are in a generous spirit,” says Amy Nofziger, who oversees the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline (877-908-3360). “Most of us are out hustling and bustling and planning parties and buying gifts, and the criminals make you feel guilty for your ability to celebrate [when many others can’t]. They'll prey on that feeling” to get you to donate to their sham charities.
Nofziger and others familiar with holiday charity scams have tips to help ensure that your gift will benefit a good cause — not a con artist.
1. Do your homework.
“Investigate before you invest,” says Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance monitors and evaluates charities; visit its site to find reports on your chosen cause. Other watchdogs include the American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org), Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) and GuideStar (www.guidestar.org).
2. Know the warning signs for fraud.
A genuine charity won’t protest if you ask for time to think things over or conduct due diligence. Nofziger says it’s a red flag if a person or group making an appeal is “not willing to give straight answers.”
When the phone rings and you’re pressured to give, “caution is the watchword,” the Federal Communications Commission advises. “If an unsolicited call seems suspicious, or you feel a caller is trying to strong-arm you for a donation, hang up and don't answer if you get a call back. There are plenty of legitimate charities with which you can initiate contact.”