During Holidays, Don’t Get Swindled on Donations

The winter holidays are typically associated with charity and giving back, but people should be aware that for others, it means it’s the season for scamming, as well.
A recent CBS “This Morning” episode urged a word of warning to viewers. By the show’s estimates, more than 40% of people give money during the holidays and there was around $281 billion donated last year. What’s getting harder, the hosts said, is knowing when you’re being scammed.
Host Gayle King had her own story: She’d received an email purportedly from someone she knew who was affiliated with a charity. She was almost ready to send some money until a small detail caught her eye — the name.
“If this person hadn’t signed it ‘Dave,’ I would have never questioned it, because I didn’t double-check the email until I became suspicious,” King said, noting her friend goes by “David.”
CBS business analyst Jill Schlesinger of the program “Jill on Money” was brought on to help consumers out. She advised against giving cash or through wire transfers and cautioned generally against using any personal information with a donation.
“It usually coincides with a disaster, maybe hurricane relief, but just like you said, it can happen from any area,” she said. “I know everyone’s going to get inundated with asks today and through the end of the year. A little healthy skepticism would be great.”
There also are a variety of ways to check the authenticity of a charity or organization. Using a search engine at irs.gov allows you to check the nonprofit status of an organization. The websites Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org), Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (give.org), CharityWatch (charitywatch.org) and GuideStar (guidestar.org) also will help identify whether charities are trustworthy.
“One of the key characteristics of these frauds is that they will tend to sound like a charity you’re familiar with,” Schlesinger warned. “It may not be the American Cancer Society; they may change it to the ‘American Cancer Organization,’ something that’s close but not the actual charity.”
Schlesinger added that it’s important to make sure a charity is actually using the bulk of its donations toward its stated mission, instead of paying for overhead.
“Generally speaking, we like to see that 75% of the money goes to the charity’s ultimate outcome rather than the overheard,” she said. “If you’re seeing half and half, it’s not a good sign.”

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