Watch out, it is the season for phone scams

With the holiday season upon us, many good-willed individuals express their generosity by giving to those less fortunate.

Unfortunately, that can also create an opportunity for scam artists to take advantage of the kindness of others.  It is important to make certain your generosity is received by those who need it most. 
So when giving this holiday season remember to use your head, as well as your heart.

Look-alike charities
Watch out for charities with similar names to well-known organizations. Some scam artists try to trick people by using names that make them appear to be the same as or comparable to valid charities.

Always investigate the organization prior to making a donation.  Look at their websites. Many non-profit web addresses end in .org instead of .com. 

Phone scams
Be cautious of charities that contact you over the phone.  In our area for example, there’s a popular scam from solicitors who claim to represent the local law enforcement or firemen and related police fundraising organizations.  Ask the solicitor for the charity’s mailing address so that you can send them a check directly. When in doubt, call the charity yourself and ask them if they’re aware of the solicitations being done in their name.

Know your charity
Many more organizations push for donations during the holidays. Research your charity before making the decision to donate. If they offer you very little information, they may not be legitimate. A legitimate charity will give you information describing its mission, how donations are distributed and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. 

How is your donation used?
One of the most important things to consider when making a charitable contribution is how much of your money actually goes to the charitable cause. Most charities are required to register and file annual reports showing how donations are used. You can ask how to find this information at your state or local consumer protection agency.

Contribution collectors
Individuals who go door-to-door or position themselves in high traffic areas should be carrying proper credentials and identification.  These individuals should be knowledgeable about the organization and be able to provide you with informative materials about the charity. Ask for written information and the solicitor’s identification to validate the organization. For security and tax record purposes, it’s important to pay by check when giving a contribution and write the charity’s official name on the check.

Mail scams
Holiday greetings may not the only thing crowding your mailbox. This time of year, watch for appeals for donations. If you do not recognize the name of a particular charity, you can check out their legitimacy as well as their efficiency with your money at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website, www.give.org.

Email scams
Be skeptical of emails seeking charitable contributions.  Many unsolicited messages received through email are fraudulent.  Do not respond to these emails as many of them ask you to send money to an off-shore bank account.

Additionally, a fraudulent charity email may have an attachment, offering you more information.  Be aware, as many times these attachments contain viruses.

It is always important that any charity-related email include a link to an authorized website.  You should also be skeptical of any charity email or website that requires you to enter you social security number.

Promised prizes
Be cautious of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for your contribution. This may not be the type of holiday gift you are looking for. Fraudulent sweepstake mailers encourage consumers to return the apparent ‘winning’ entry along with a donation to the charity named in the promotion. The wording in the mailer makes it seem like the recipient is already a winner. Be skeptical if a solicitor thanks you for a contribution you don’t remember giving.

Other options
Instead of donating money to a charity, consider volunteering your time.  Contributing your personal time to help others can mean much more than simply writing a check. You can also donate toys, clothing or nonperishable food and make it part of your holiday tradition.

Adamant demands
Refuse any high-pressure requests for your contribution. Legitimate charities usually don’t require people to give at a moment’s notice.  An established charity will still be willing to accept your donation, even if you take some time to research first.

If you do receive a phone scam, report it to the local law enforcement authorities.