Seven Ways to Avoid Charity Scams During the Holidays

HARRISBURG, Pa. –  The holidays inspire selflessness and charitable giving in many individuals, but unscrupulous scam artists may view that generosity as an opportunity to line their own pockets.

As part of Holiday Scam Protection Week, the Department of Banking and Securities is joining the Department of State to advise consumers to look out for signs of scams during the holidays and to use safe giving strategies to ensure their gifts are going to the charity they intend.

“Charity scams occur all year long, but unfortunately criminals may be more active during the holiday season when they know you are eager to share with those in need,” Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann said. “Being well-informed about this and other scams that see an uptick near the holidays can help prevent you from losing your hard-earned money and allow you to instead focus on what is truly important during this time of year.”

Here are how these scams work:

  • Fake charities often use names similar to those of well-known organizations (for example: Six Golden Rings Relief Fund vs. Five Golden Rings Relief Fund).
  • Victims may be contacted directly by email (something real charities only do with existing stakeholders), phone, or by a “volunteer” going door-to-door.
  • Charity scams can also be vehicles for identity theft by directing victims to bogus websites where they provide personal and financial information along with their “donation.”

“The Department of State is dedicated to our job of helping to prevent charities fraud,” Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres said. “The information we provide allows all Pennsylvanians to make informed decisions about donating.”

Seven tips to prevent charity Grinches from stealing your giving spirit (and money):

1. Ignore email or text solicitations for donations from unknown organizations: they are almost always scams.

2. Never give cash or write out a check to an individual solicitor. When writing a check, make it payable to the organization or pay via credit card.

3. Never feel pressured to make a donation on the spot before doing your homework!

4. Research an organization before making a donation:

    • Check with the Internal Revenue Service to make sure the organization asking you for money is registered as a 501(c) corporation, which means your donation is tax deductible: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/
    • Contact the Pennsylvania Department of State to verify that the charity asking you for money is legally registered: www.charities.pa.gov/ The charities online database makes readily available basic financial information about the expenses for program services, fundraising and management for all registered organizations.
    • The Department of State’s website also provides a list of organizations which have been subject to corrective actions taken by the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. The public may also call 1-800-732-0999.
    • You can also check the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance for information on charities: www.give.org/

5. Verify claims of someone soliciting donations and do not hesitate to ask questions, such as the purpose of the organization and how your donation will be used.

If a charity claims to be helping a local organization such as a police or fire department, check with that organization to see if they are indeed fundraising and using that organization.

6. Check website addresses carefully since scammers often will create websites and names that are very similar to legitimate, reputable organizations (for example, 12drummers.com vs. 12drumers.com). Check the spelling of the organization’s name and the URL very closely for discrepancies.

7. Reach out to the organization directly with your financial contribution, in-kind donation, or to volunteer if you are unsure of whether a solicitor is representing a legitimate charitable organization.

As part of the Department of Banking and Securities’ “Holiday Scam Protection Week,” Wiessmann urges consumers to be well-informed. Know the “red flags” of scams and fraud and who you can contact if you believe you are a victim. Check out the publication: “Scams: Protect Yourself. Protect Your Money” www.dobs.pa.gov/Documents/Publications/Brochures/Scams%20Booklet.pdf

Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-600-0007 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products. Members of the public are also invited to connect to the department through Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to the department’s newsletter.

To file a complaint about any charity soliciting donations in the Commonwealth, contact the Department of State’s Charities Investigations/Audits Unit at 717-787-0700, by email at ra-stbeiciu@pa.gov, or by mail at 401 North St., Room 212, Harrisburg, PA, 17120.


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