Online Holiday Donations – How Not to Get Scammed
Giving Tuesday is a fantastic global movement created by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact. The mission centers around the values of service and giving back to society. Giving Tuesday encourages participation through the use of social media, emails, and collaboration. Giving Tuesday occurs on the Tuesday following the U.S. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.
This annual event also presents another opportunity for hackers and scammers to steal money and information from generous donors and their intended recipients. With the holiday shopping season at full-title, time-starved donors look for a simple way to give back to their favorite organizations easily.
Giving Tuesday is not immune to cyber security scammers. You may receive emails from people you know who are asking for donations. I’m one of those people who send out emails asking for money for my annual fundraiser. I always include the charity’s financial information. Unscrupulous hackers send phishing emails hoping to fool donors into giving their banking logins or credit card numbers. Spoofed websites that look almost identical to their legitimate counterparts are used to gather personal information, login credentials, and financial information.
How Do You Donate and Not Get Scammed?
- Vet who you donate to
Vet who you donate money to. Established, reputable charities in the U.S. are listed on charity rating websites like Guidestar.com and CharityNavigator.com. Donors can see past tax documents, board members names, as well as a breakdown of how the organization spends their funds. Look for their IRS 501(c)(3) paperwork which makes them official with the Internal Revenue Service. A good indicator of a charity’s efficiency is the ratio of their revenue versus overhead expenses. If a charity is not getting most of their money out to those in need, it does not mean they are fraudulent, but they just might be inefficient. You may want to donate your money elsewhere.
- Make a Personal Connection
Find an organization that you have a personal connection with. It takes time and effort to vet a charity properly. That means sifting through tax documents and the organization’s website to make sure they are real. You can create your own personal connection by paying a visit to the nonprofit’s office or by attending one of their events. If you don’t want to spend the time making sure a charity is legit, then donate somewhere safe like your alumni association, a local foundation, or other nonprofit that you know well.
- Give Through a Third-Party
Protect your credit card information by donating through a third-party that has done the vetting for you. Both Facebook and Amazon allow users to donate through their platforms. With this route, your credit card information is protected as you don’t give any information to the receiving charity. On Facebook, the credit card processing is handled by Facebook, so the recipient never sees the numbers. With the Amazon Smile Program, you can donate a portion of the sale (no extra cost to you the donor) by selecting the charity of your choice at checkout. The charity receives the money and your credit card information is kept separate.
Many employers have their own plans that accept donations and then give them to vetted charities. Employers may also funnel employees’ donations to well-known global organizations like the United Way.
- Beware of Phishing emails
On Giving Tuesday the internet is filled with social media posts and emails soliciting donations. The hashtags #GivingTuesday #donate and #giveback have been trending all morning on Twitter. Today is another increased opportunity for hackers who send out phishing emails to scam unsuspecting, charitable people. Just like Black Friday and the entire holiday shopping season present an increase in holiday scams, Giving Tuesday is another chance for scammer so to take fool people with fraudulent emails and spoofed websites.
Beware of phishing emails asking for donations. Be especially suspicious if they are asking you to reset a password or verify your identity in an email. Take a good look at any email you receive that asks for money. Learn the difference between the friendly name and the sending email address. There is a difference.
When clicking on a link from a social media post, take a moment to examine the website you just landed on. IS it legitimate? Is the financial information secured with HTTPS?
- Donate on the Organizations Website
Giving Tuesday is an opportunity for charities to collect the funds they need to carry out their work. It is unfortunate that scammers take advantage of charitable people and take money away from organizations that are trying to help needy recipients. If you want to donate, go directly to the charity’s website to donate. Make sure you are on the correct website and not one that is closely named or looks just like the charity’s website but really isn’t.
- Donate Your Time
The easiest way to protect your money is not to expose it online by entering banking information on websites. But you still want to contribute – right? Donate your time and help the charity run one of their events. That’s valuable too. If you can, donate goods and give it as an in-kind donation. All of these help an organization save money and provide valuable assistance.
Michelle writes about cyber security as well as how to protect your data online. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers