The holidays are a time for cheer and a time for giving, and bring out human empathy and the desire to help those less fortunate. Cybercriminals are not new to this concept and often take advantage of people’s sense of caring. They seem to lack this empathetic trait and will do whatever it takes to prey on the giving spirit of humans around the holiday.

If you want to donate money to charitable causes, follow a few guidelines to keep your information safe and to make sure your donation goes to the right place.

-Take some time to research the charities first. Make sure it’s reputable and legitimate.

-Don’t give cash to people that show up at your door asking for funds for their charity. Get some literature or contact information from them and research the organization. If you feel good about it, you can donate online or use their contact information to get back in touch.

-If someone shows up at your door claiming to represent a charity, call the organization and ask if the solicitor is authorized to ask for donations on its behalf.

-If you get an unsolicited phone call or email message, don’t provide any information to someone who calls you out of the blue. Get a phone number off the Internet and call them back. Don’t use email addresses or phone numbers given to you by an unsolicited caller.

-Preferably, don’t give cash donations. Keep records of any donations made in case you need to report a scam.

-Don’t wire money or provide funds in the form of gift cards or pre-paid cards. Actual charities will not ask for these.

Look on websites that provide information on various charities, complaints about them, and how they use charitable contributions before giving.

The FTC provides some tips on how to identify charity scams:

– It refuses to provide detailed information about identity, mission, costs, and/or how the donation will be used.

– It refuses to provide proof that the contribution is tax deductible.

– It uses a name that is very similar to that of a better-known and reputable organization.

– It thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making or know you didn’t make and subsequently uses that to try to convince you to “give again.”

– It uses high-pressure tactics such as asking for your donation immediately, without giving you any time to think about it or do your own research.

– It offers to send someone immediately to collect your donation.

– It makes a guarantee of winning a sweepstakes in exchange for a contribution. You never have to make any type of donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

That’s the law.

If you have been or suspect you may have been the victim of a charity scam, contact the FTC and report it. Information can be found on the FTC Complaint Assistant page of the FTC’s website. And remember that charities and non-profit organizations will gladly accept your donations year-round. So, there is no need to feel rushed with respect to what organization you should give.

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