This is the time of year scammers ramp up their efforts to steal your donated goods, your money, and even your identity. They’re counting on your generosity and your overly busy schedule to keep you from digging too deeply into their conduct.
Here are three top scams to watch for:
- Homeless veterans scam. Public concern over the plight of many of our U.S. veterans is at an all-time high, and thieves know that anything with the word “veteran” in the name is sure to catch the eye of generous givers. Too often, though, the funds or donated items never reach the intended recipients.
- Firefighter and police scam. Just like our veterans, mentioning that your donation will go to support our underappreciated first responders is a guaranteed tug at your heartstrings. Unfortunately, scammers are playing off another buzz-worthy charity topic in order to get you to hand over your money.
- Elder care scam. A group many of us have a soft spot for is the elderly, and with good reason. They often go without healthy meals and heat during the winter months, and charities that support them are certainly deserving of all the support they can get—when they get the funding.
To ensure your support goes towards intended recipients, do your homework. There are several websites with charity databases that tell you how much of your donation goes to administrative costs versus program services. A few websites to check out include BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar.
When you’re approached with the opportunity to give, don’t hesitate to ask for documentation about where the funds go, and how much is used for administration. Don’t be afraid to ask serious questions about how the money actually helps the recipients. If you don’t get a solid answer backed up by documentation, then there’s a good chance this is a scam.
Of course, this is a lot harder when you’re faced with someone taking up on-the-spot collections, such as at a mall or retail store. If you trust the name behind the charity, then you can feel good about your donation. If you’ve never heard of the organization or aren’t sure about where the money will go, don’t hesitate to walk away and make your donation through a more organized option like a mailed check.
The best way to avoid a holiday charity scam? Make your donations throughout the year to the charities whose work you feel strongest about. While holiday giving fills a desperate need at a particularly difficult time of year for many, many people, supporting your favorite charities all year long will help them head into the holidays in a better financial position than if they have to rely on last minute goodwill.
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.