Tips for Donating During the Holidays

Written by Jack Honig
Published February 7, 2019
how to avoid getting scammed when donating during the holidays how to avoid getting scammed when donating during the holidays

Give This Holiday Season Without Getting Taken

The holidays are a season of gift giving, and part of that giving is to charitable organizations. But deciding which charity to choose can be daunting if you aren’t mindful of the integrity of the organizations you’re giving to and protecting yourself from being scammed or hacked.

Some of the things you need to do once you’ve selected a charitable organization that suits your passions are:

  • Examine the charity’s finances; if they’re financially efficient and responsible, they can better serve their charitable mission
  • Ensure the charity is accountable and transparent; those that are will be less likely to be involved in unethical or irresponsible activities
  • Research what impact they’ve had; charities that have brought about long-lasting and meaningful change are worthy of your donation

It’s in your best interest to take the time to research your charity. You want to be sure that can trust them to use your money to where it is needed and not place your financial information in jeopardy. An increasing number of donors choosing to give online creates an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of your kindness. These parasites will not only steal the money you donate but can potentially hijack your personal information as well. So how do you protect yourself while ensuring the money you donate gets to the causes you wish to support?

Be Careful When Responding to Email Solicitations

Unlike standard mail, emails from charities are usually a result of you providing contact information to that charity in the past. If you’ve donated to them previously, signed an online petition, or responded to a survey via social media, you’ve previously provided them your email information. Non-profits often use email to ask for continued support, so these emails are likely to be legitimate.

However, if you receive a solicitation from a charity you’ve never heard of before or haven’t supported or contacted, be wary. Despite how official the email may seem, it could be a scam. Do not follow the links within the message. If you’re interested in the organization and want to learn more about them, it’s best to go directly to their website or check out their rating on Charity Navigator.

Beware of Requests to Send Money Overseas

As a rule, any organization requesting you send funds to a foreign bank is probably a scam and should be avoided.

Delete Unsolicited Emails with Attachments

Legitimate emails from organizations, especially charitable organizations, typically do not include attachments. If they want you to see something, or get more information, they direct you to their website. Do not open the attachments as they likely contain viruses or attempts to hijack your computer and your personal information.

Get Inspired by Social Media but Without the Blinders On

Social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube can deliver passionate pleas via images and information about charitable causes. Many of these campaigns include pleas to donate. Don’t forget to take the time to ensure that the organizations your giving to are legitimate nonprofits and make your donation on the organization’s website.

Always Seek Out the Charity’s Authorized Website

Doing a general search on Google, Yahoo, or Bing may sometimes include fraudulent sites designed to mimic a legitimate charity’s website. Criminals have been known to set up websites that include keywords of natural disasters or other charities, so always examine the web address. Legitimate non-profits use web addresses that end with .org and not .com. Avoid web addresses that end in a series of numbers. Never respond to requests for detailed personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, bank account, and PIN info; providing this info is setting yourself up to have your identity stolen.

If you’re donating on the phone, be sure to ask these questions to qualify the organization:

  • Ask them to provide their EIN. Only registered public charitable organizations will have this. You can use the EIN to find them on the Charity Navigator site. If they don’t have one, or you can’t find the EIN on this site, don’t donate.
  • Ask them about their missions, goals, and history of success. If they struggle to answer, don’t donate.  

During the holiday season, you’ll be inundated with charities looking for donations. And it’s very easy to get carried away by the images you see on social media. But stop and do your homework. Doing your due diligence and checking out the legitimacy of the charities you give to, will make sure you know who is behind the appeal. Some of the sites you can use to help check include, Charity Navigator, and Great Nonprofits.