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Tips to avoid fraudulent charitable contribution schemes

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A new year brings new opportunities for scams. With the unrest lately, many people have had their homes and businesses damaged by looters and protestors. Unfortunately, after each disaster, the scam artists come out in droves. Using email scams and fake websites, criminals use disasters such as these, to try to defraud the public into making donations to fake charitable organizations.

In addition, we now have crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, and the money goes into the hands of people with no guarantee for or oversight of how they will spend the money.

GoFundMe says it’s not able to vet all fundraising campaigns, but they do encourage people to report to the website management team any suspicious or inappropriate campaigns. They also provide visitors with the tools to make an informed decision about who they choose to support. Not all are bad, of course, but please make sure you check out the person or group to whom you are donating.

Report Scams to Tip Line

The FBI has set up a tip line for people to use to report such scams. These scams can come in many forms – emails, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings, telephone calls and other similar methods, according to the FBI.

If you receive a fraudulent solicitation for a donation for victims of a disaster, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, 866-720-5721. The line is staffed by a live operator 24/7. Email scams can be forward to disaster@leo.gov, or letters and flyers can be faxed to 225-334-4707.

Donation Guidelines

Before you make a donation of any kind, you may want to consider these guidelines suggested by the FBI:

• Do not respond to any email sent from someone you do not know personally.
• Avoid giving personal data such as social security numbers, dates of birth and bank account information to any organization seeking donations.
• Beware if someone thanks you for a previous donation that you did not make, or tries to collect a pledge you did not make.
• Don’t click on links in unsolicited email, because they could contain a virus.
• Be skeptical of anyone who represents themselves as a member of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
• Watch out for copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
• Try to verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by searching online to confirm the group’s existence and nonprofit status.
• Beware of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files. Those files may contain viruses.
• Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
• Be cautious if someone tries to pressure you into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.
• Be sure whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information can you vulnerable to identity theft.
• Avoid cash donations. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals or organizations that you do not know.
• Legitimate charities do not usually solicit donations via money transfer services.
• Most legitimate charities’ websites end in .org rather than .com.

These guidelines apply to all sorts of disasters, whether man-made or natural because both can bring out the scammers as well as those who legitimately want to help. Please make sure you to whom you are donating.

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