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Lessons and stories from the front lines of fighting identity theft.

 

Tis’ the Season to Be… Scammed?

Dec 10

Tis’ the season to be jolly, and for many of us, it’s a time of year when we feel generous, too.

Americans typically shell out hundreds of millions to charities during the holiday season and this year, some people may be inclined to donate even more to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

But before you dig into your purse or wallet, the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement officials recommend taking the following precautions to ensure that your money goes to the charity that you want to support.

Verify that the charity is legitimate. It’s a good idea to contact the charity to get its legal name, address, phone number, website and written information about its programs. You can also check out charities with the Better Business Bureau and GuideStar.

Contact the government office that regulates charities. Most charities are regulated by state governments. Contact the National  Association of State Charity Officials for a list of state government offices that oversee charities. Your state office can help you verify the legitimacy of the charity.

Don’t rely on social media alone. What if you get a tweet or Facebook post from a family claiming to be victims of Hurricane Sandy and they ask you to send money? You should never send money to individuals that you don’t know. If the family is seeking help through a charity, the best thing to do is to research that charity.

Beware of charities that pop up overnight in conjunction with a natural disaster. The same goes for charities that claim to be for police officers, veterans or firefighters. Scam artists know that people have a soft spot for these organizations and will try to take advantage of your generosity. If you want to help victims of domestic disasters, contact the Red Cross or law enforcement agencies in the city or state where the disaster occurred.  To help victims of international disasters, contact the U.S. Agency for International Development for information on how to help victims overseas.

Never give your credit card information over the phone. There’s no way to verify whether the person on the other end is legitimate. You can always mail a check or donate through a secure website.

Question solicitors. If you’re being solicited for a donation, find out who’s soliciting you.  If it’s a professional fundraising group, get the name of the group and find out how much of your donation will go to the group and how much will go to the charity. If you can’t get straight answers, don’t donate to that group.

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