Criminals Are Counting On Your Compassion To Steal From You For A Worthy Cause

charity scam

Boy, do I miss the good ole days before cyberscammery began!

(I know I made up that word, and you’re welcome to use it!) I miss the olden days when we had a land line and the phone didn’t ring so much. If it rang at dinner time you just knew it was a telemarketer! But, that’s just pure sentimentality and it doesn’t fix a darn thing. The fact of the matter is that every human being has to deal with an onslaught of disreputable criminals who are constantly trying to bilk us out of our money or our identities through emails, social media and phone calls. There seems to be no end to it. We each have to find ways to deal with it.

Most Galling Scam Of All

The type of scam that galls me most is when criminals take advantage of the goodness of regular folks after a tragic event has occurred. This happens frequently in hurricane territory. We are in the middle of hurricane season now and fortunately we’ve not had any storms make landfall. But, just because storms don’t make landfall here, they may cause damage in other parts of the world and the criminals have no qualms about tapping the compassionate thousands of miles away from the actual disaster zone.

Hurricane Season Blows In More Disaster Scams

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. averages one to two hurricane landfalls each season. And we are just halfway through hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.

Last year’s hurricane season was profitable for charity scammers, however I can’t find any dollar figures that say just how much they got away with. Nonetheless, despite the fact this year’s hurricane season is a mild one, The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to remind taxpayers to be alert for scams that will “undoubtedly pop up when and if a hurricane occurs.”

Forbes.com posted some tips to keep in mind if you are feeling charitable after a natural disaster. And remember, it’s not just hurricanes that the scammers chase. The California fires are likely to spark a storm of fake charity calls. So, please be wary and keep the following tips in mind.

  • Be smart. Be wary of personal solicitations. Make sure that gifts made by checks or credit card gifts are secure—and don’t send money by text or using apps like Venmo without first verifying the organization and the contact information. If you don’t want to donate online or by text, most organizations have alternatives, like donation forms that you can mail together with a check. Never send cash through the mail, and never hand over cash in person without getting a receipt.
  • Do your homework. Check out the credentials of a potential charitable organization before you donate. Charity Navigator is useful for gathering information about existing charities. Forbes has a list of the largest charities in the U.S., complete with details on revenues, fundraising efficiency and more. And you can always confirm charitable status through the IRS website using their new online tool, the Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS). Remember that some organizations (like churches) may not be listed, so don’t be afraid to ask organizations that don’t appear on the list for more information.
  • Use caution when donating to individuals. For tax purposes you can only deduct contributions to qualified tax-exempt charitable organizations. Donations to individuals are never deductible for tax purposes even if the individuals are deserving. But there’s another, nontax reason to use caution: Money solicited for individuals could be part of a scam, and even if it’s not, the money might not be spent as advertised. Keep in mind that once you hand over the cash, you have no control over how it might be used.
  • Rely on oldies but goodies. There is something to be said for those that have been around for some time, like the Red Cross. New organizations may not have the facilities in place to offer the most effective relief—or they could be scams. If an organization is brand new, use caution.
  • Check with the organization first. While most organizations prefer cash or cash equivalent, some may solicit in-kind donations. Check with the organization before you send or drop off anything. And if you’re planning to claim a tax deduction for any in-kind goods, be sure to keep receipts showing what you paid for the items.
  • Keep excellent records. Always keep records of donations since the IRS requires that you do so for tax purposes. Asking the organization for documentation is a good way to gauge their responsiveness and legitimacy (if they balk at doing so, it should be a red flag).
  • Pay attention to the rules. The rules for charitable giving apply even in extraordinary situations. If you have questions, ask your tax professional for more information.

 

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