Online internet Christmas shopping concept with present computer mouse and hand
The holidays are just around the corner, which means traditions are underway and many are in the giving spirit. Unfortunately, this is also a time when many criminals seek to take advantage of your philanthropic spirit.

To avoid falling victim to scams this holiday season, follow these five steps to ensure the organizations you are donating to will put your money to good use.

#1: Do your research

The holidays are a time for giving to those who are less fortunate. If you choose to make charitable donations, it’s important to do your research before handing over any sum of money.

When conducting your research, you should note how each charity you are considering handles their monetary donations; some organizations only give a small portion of financial gifts to charitable causes. To better understand how your donation will be used, you can use a site like Charity Navigator which is dedicated to helping donors understand how specific charities handle their finances, including donations. If your contribution is going to fill the wallets of the top executives, your money may be better used elsewhere.

#2: Check for legitimacy

Once you have selected the charity of your choice, you will want to ensure that it is a valid organization.

During the holidays, charities tend to be more visible, whether they are going door-to-door or approaching you at your local shopping mall for donations. If you haven’t heard of the group before, decline the monetary donation until you can look into the organization more closely. To check the status or legitimacy of a charitable organization, you can visit the IRS’s website.

#3: Beware of scams in your area

During the holiday season there is an influx of scams. If you know ahead of time what messages are going around, you can better avoid becoming a target.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) both have websites dedicated to tracking scams. On the FTC’s “Scam Alerts” website you can browse for specific topics or look up the most recent scams reported; you can also sign up for their email alert to be notified automatically of new schemes without having to visit the actual site. Additionally, the BBB’s “Scam Tracker” documents thousands of scams nationwide. Here you can search in your area for reported scams or, if you have received a questionable phone call or email, you can look to see if others received a similar message.

#4: Look out for phish-y emails

While we try to look out for spam year-round, you need to keep an especially watchful eye during the holidays. If you receive an email from a stranger or company you are unfamiliar with, do not open the email. During this time of year, computer hacks increase. Even if you receive an email from a trusted friend or family member, if the title of the email or attachment within the email seems off, delete it and notify the sender right away. These questionable links and attachments could be a way to hack into your computer to obtain your personal information.

#5: Never give out personal or financial information

Whether you’re talking to family members or filling out a survey, never give out your financial information. Handing out this information can open you up to a slew of telemarketing and online scams. As always, never give out your Social Security number if you are unaware what the individual, organization or retailer needs it for. You should also keep in mind that your bank or credit card company will not contact you asking for your personal or financial information; if you receive a phone call or email asking for this, report it right away.

 

The holidays are a time for giving. Take care to ensure the safety of your finances and to guarantee your donations will be put to the best use possible.

Todd Diven

Todd Diven

Senior Vice President, Financial Advisor

CPA, CFP ®, Series 7, 24 & 63 Securities Registrations,1 Series 65 Advisory Registration,† Insurance License Todd has been working with small business clients and individuals since 1996. As Vice President, Financial Advisor, Todd devotes his time to helping his clients focus on their plans for the future. By leveraging the Roundtable™ team of specialists and his own tax and accounting experience, he is able to position his clients for a more...Read More