You’ve probably already received several letters and phone calls from charities asking for donations. Most requests are from legitimate organizations. Some, however, are bogus charities set up by con artists who use the holiday spirit to their financial advantage.
Last year, Americans gave nearly $428 billion to charities, according to Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018. That’s a huge incentive for fraud.
If you’re planning to donate, take some time to learn how to spot a charity scam. Here are a few big red flags:
Popup charities. Every legitimate charitable association started sometime, and some are still being formed. But natural disasters, endemics and calamities of every type — from Hurricane Dorian to the Ebola virus — seem to spawn an inordinate share of fake charities. You can avoid these popup scams by donating to charities that you trust, which generally means those with a proven track record. If you’re unsure, check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, GuideStar or similar watchdog group.
Evasive answers to fundraising questions. A legitimate caller should be upfront about their charity, the percentage of funds allocated to administration and marketing, and what target groups will be aided by your donation. Whether you’re giving to provide medical supplies, support research or some other worthy cause, don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers. If the fundraiser seems to hedge their responses or knows little about the supposed cause to which you’re contributing, consider a different charity. Beware of vague claims like “educating the public” or “promoting awareness.”
Urgent email requests. Websites made to mimic legitimate charities have conned many otherwise careful contributors. Emails asking for money on a deadline may originate from the backroom computer of a scam artist. Never divulge your financial information via email. Call the charity directly and find out if it’s registered in your state (if required). Ask for written information. When in doubt, check it out.
Many charitable organizations are seeking your aid to address genuine hardships. Avoid the schemes of unethical scammers, and your donations will provide help where it’s needed most.
If you think you’ve been contacted by a bogus charity, let the Federal Trade Commission know by filing a complaint.
These days, we all want our money to go further and charitable donations are no exception. Yet sometimes, even well-intentioned gifts may end up going to a poorly run charity or the charity does not receive the full benefit of your gift.
Here are some steps to ensure that your donation makes the biggest impact:
Research the Charity – Make sure the charity you donate to is a good steward of your resources. Websites like www.charitynavigator.org track the financial health and effectiveness of charities. Effective charities spend 75% or more of their resources on their services and 25% or less on fundraising and administrative costs.
Be Proactive – Identify the causes that are most important to you and your family and then target those organizations – it’s just too easy to give haphazardly to whomever asks you for money.
Do Not Give Over the Phone – Charitable telemarketing campaigns generally use for-profit fundraisers who take a percentage of your gift. This means the charity often receives substantially less of your donation if you give over the phone. If you truly support the organization, hang-up. Then contact the charity directly to make your donation.
Focus Your Support – Focus on one or two charities that you are passionate about. Repeat donations from reliable donors save charities money because they don’t have to go looking for more donors and are not wasting money trying to woo uncommitted, one-time donors.
Share Your Intentions – Whether your donation is a one-time gift or part of a long-term commitment, tell the charity so that they do not continue to spend money on seeking more donations from you.
As part of your holiday season of giving, consider giving to a favorite charity. It can also serve as part of your year-end tax planning.
Last week we told you about the three largest of the “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams”. This week we will cover the rest.
Return preparer fraud – In conjunction with Identity Theft, many temporary tax preparation offices set up shop and generate fraudulent tax returns. These folks often file a return using stolen information, create refund fraud and other scams that leave you holding the tax obligation when caught.
Offshore accounts – The IRS has taken many enforcement actions in this area after breaking the long-standing secrecy wall of Swiss bank accounts. If you have money in foreign accounts, you must understand the reporting requirements or you could be subject to substantial fines.
Fake charities – After major disasters, many charitable givers are scammed into making donations to fake charities. In addition, new IRS charitable organization reporting requirements are not being followed by many organizations. This makes donations to them non-deductible. To protect against this, make sure the charity is both legitimate and deemed a qualified charity by the IRS before you donate.
Other scams – The other six scams that round out the IRS list include: inflated refund claims, falsely padding deductions, excessive business credit claims, falsifying income to claim credits, abusive tax shelters, and frivolous tax arguments.
If you want more info, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov and click on the News & Events tab/Tax Scams!