It seems that a couple times every year I’m writing a column like this. It’s unfortunate that I have to write a column like this; however, it’s the reality of the world that we live in. What I’m writing about is scams regarding a charity when there has been some sort of disaster. The particular disaster I’m referring to is what happened a couple weeks ago in Paris with the fire at the historic Cathedral at Notre Dame. Even before the fires were extinguished, the call went out to begin to raise money to rebuild the Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was also a call to the thieves in our society to take advantage of the situation.
It seems that in ever disaster these days, bogus and fraudulent organizations start popping up and raising money to help those affected by the disaster, and in this case, to rebuild the Cathedral. These scammers are sophisticated and are good at what they do. They send out emails and set up websites that pull at your heart. In addition, many of these thieves begin phone solicitations in an attempt to raise money. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t have the resources to shut these people down; therefore, it is up to us to make sure that before we give our hard-earned money to any charitable cause we do our homework ahead of time.
The key to making sure that your money goes to an honest charity is to first make sure that you research the charity. Going to websites like www.charitynavigator.org or www.bbb.org are great ways to begin your search. These websites have a wealth of information about charities that you can use. It is important that when you do your research you make sure that you use the exact name of the charity. The scam artists are very good at using names that sound similar to well recognized charities. Don’t fall for that. If the charity you’re researching is not covered under the two aforementioned websites, it’s a good sign that there may be a problem.
It’s not only scam artists who are looking at scamming you out of money, but also the identity thieves come out in force whenever there has been a disaster. That is why it is important to remember that if you get an email from an organization seeking to solicit money, never link directly from that email. All too often, crooks will attach viruses to these emails, and it is possible if you link from them a virus will affect your computer, thus allowing the lowlife to access some of your sensitive information. Therefore, if you get an email from a charity and you want to go to that charity’s website, don’t use the link provided in the email; independently type the web address in your browser.
To also protect yourself, my advice is to never give to a phone solicitation, especially when you’re not familiar with that charity. If you give through the phone, you’re giving that person your charge card information along with your address. With this information, identity thieves can cause you much harm. Therefore, don’t give to a phone solicitor.
Even if I’m familiar with the charity, I still don’t give through phone solicitations. The reason is that even with legitimate charities using phone solicitors, it’s not unusual for up to 50 percent of your contribution to go to the phone solicitor, not to the charitable organization. As far as I’m concerned, when I give money to a charity, I want the great bulk of that money going to achieve the charitable purpose, not to a phone solicitor.
When it comes to charitable scams, the scam artists are not just located in our country; they are located around the world. Because of this, it is more important than ever that if you’re going to make a charitable contribution to check the charity out before you give your hard-earned money.
One last note and that is even if you give money to a legitimate charity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can write it off your taxes. Typically, if you give money to a foreign charity, that money is not tax deductible to you. In order to be able to deduct a charitable contribution, you need to make sure the organization is listed as an IRS tax exempt organization. Some people are under the mistaken belief that if you make a contribution through a GoFundMe page or something of that nature, you get a charitable contribution; unfortunately, you don’t. In order to claim a charitable contribution, once again, the organization has to be on the IRS tax exempt organization list.
Helping those in need and helping after a disaster is the American way. We are the most generous and charitable people in the world. Unfortunately, the lowlifes around the world also know this, and during these times they look at taking advantage of it. We have to be smarter than them to make sure that our money goes to legitimate charitable organizations.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.