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Give with your head and your heart

Avoid fraud and make your donations count this holiday season

As the holidays approach and donation requests rise, you may come across more naughty than nice. Scammers will take advantage of your generosity all year long, but especially during the holidays.

But first, remember: Just because there are fraudsters who prey on donors, doesn’t mean you should stop giving. There are great charities out there that help change lives. Please keep giving, but do your research first.

Here is some advice from the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Federal Trade Commission:

Resources for consumers

When you donate, you want your money to go to a charity that really helps make a difference. Many reputable charities are deserving of support. The Iowa Attorney General has tips on its website to help individuals and businesses find reputable organizations and give wisely.  Watch the FTC’s new video “Make Your Donations Count.” 

Remember to:

Do your research

  • Search the charity’s name online with words like “complaint” and “scam.”

 Ask questions

  • What are the charity’s website, address, and mission?
  • How much of your donation will go directly to services, rather than fundraising or administration?
  • How much of your donation will be used for the specific programs you want to support?
  • If supporting services in your own community is important to you, ask how the charity spends money in your area.

Be careful how you pay

  • If someone asks you to mail them cash, wire money, donate by gift card, or leave money under your front door mat for pick-up, don’t do it! That’s how scammers often ask for payment. It’s safer to pay by credit card or check.
  • If you’re donating online, check that the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” at the beginning of the web address. The “s”  means information will be transmitted securely.
  • Avoid cash donations. Pay by credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Legitimate charities will give you a receipt that shows the amount of your donation. Keep that record and check your credit card statements to make sure you’re only charged for the donation you wanted to make.
  • Both the need for donations and the opportunity for giving will be present for some time; there is no deadline for generosity. Do not feel pressured into making a contribution sooner than you are ready; reputable charities do not use coercive tactics to obtain immediate donations.

Watch out for scammers’ tricks

  • Scammers “spoof” the name and phone number that appears on your caller ID to make their fundraising calls look like they’re from your local area code, a Washington, D.C., area code, or from an organization you know.
  • Scammers pressure you into donating immediately before you have time to do any research. A legitimate charity will welcome your donation at any time.
  • Scammers claim that you’ll win a sweepstakes or get a prize if you donate.
  • Scammers will call to thank you for a pledge to donate you don’t remember making. Scammers do that to trick you into thinking you actually made a pledge and to guilt you into sending money.

What about donation requests through social media, crowdfunding sites and giving portals?

Many requests for donations through social media and crowdfunding sites are legitimate, but some are scams. For example, people may misuse real pictures and stories to get you to donate, but the money goes into their own pockets, not the individuals or organizations depicted in the photos. Crowdfunding sites often have little control over who uses them and how donations are spent. Research before you give. Also, if tax deductions are important to you, remember that donations to individuals are not tax-deductible.

The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you actually know who contact you about a specific project. Don’t assume that solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate — even when they are shared or liked by your friends. Do your own research. Call or contact your friends offline and ask them about the post they shared.

Are you considering donating through a website or social media platform that promises to send your contribution to your chosen charity? That’s a giving portal. These sites make it quick and easy for you to donate to one of several charities. Keep in mind, however: When you donate this way, your money may not go directly to that charity. Another company may get your money first, take some of it as a fee, and then pass on the rest to the charity. And it may take a while for the charity to get it. Learn more of what to look for from the FTC.    

Advice for businesses

If your company gives charitable donations, the stakes are even higher: When you lend your company name to a charity through a sponsorship or by allowing fundraising on your property, your reputation is on the line. Customers and members of the community may interpret that as a “stamp of approval” and feel safe donating to a cause you’re championing. Check out the FTC’s advice for businesses: Tips for Retailers: How to Review Charity Requests.

How to file a complaint:

If you believe you’ve been scammed or you suspect a charity is acting fraudulently, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area). 


For more tips, follow the Iowa Attorney General on Facebook and Twitter at @AGIowa



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