Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
I wear many metaphorical hats. Most are pretty silly and ridiculous, but today, I come to you with my most serious hat on. Our country has been shaken this week. First, the terrorist attack in Boston, Mass. and the manhunt that later ensued, and then the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. While many of us stayed glued to newspapers and television sets, some saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of a population of vulnerable and frightened Americans. After both, almost instantaneously, websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts were set up in order to collect funds to aid those in the midst of tragedy. However, unfortunately, many of those sites and accounts turned out to be nothing more than fraudulent motives to solicit money.
So what does this have to do with money and budget? Well, I don’t want you to get duped and send money to some lazy, low-life in a basement when it could actually be sent to somewhere legitimate to truly help those in need. So, after some lengthy research, here are some tips you need to keep in mind before you let your heart get ahead of your pocket.
Per Charity Navigator — America’s leading independent charity evaluator — you must be vigilant if you plan to make a donation online:
• Do not respond to email solicitations. Although you may receive an email that appears to come from a valid organization, it is a general rule among legitimate organizations to not solicit funds through email. Many scams use names of actual organizations, so a quick Google search is not an effective means of verification. Another dead giveaway is if the email prompts you to donate funds to a foreign bank.
• Social media can be inspiring, but do your homework. While social media is a powerful tool offering pictures and pleas to donate, not all of them are “real”. You should never give your credit card, password or other personal information via these social media requests for support. Take time to investigate the groups and be absolutely certain that they are a legitimate non-profit. Never make a donation through Facebook or Twitter, always go directly to the organizations website.
• Be leery of “victim’s” that contact you. More than likely, this is a scam.
• Seek out charity-authorized websites. Many Google searches for charities still contain fraudulent organizations.
While there are websites — such as CharityNavigator.org or GuideStar.org — that have thousands of charities on their online database that you can safely donate through, there are other ways for you to individually verify a non-profit organization:
• The IRS provides a search for IRS approved charities on their website, http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Search-for-Charities. However, not all charities are registered with the IRS. There are small, local causes that do not have tax-exempt status; you just have to make sure you fully know about the people you are giving money to.
• Verify the organization’s tax-exempt status and eligibility to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions by asking to see an organization’s IRS letter recognizing them as tax-exempt. You can also call the IRS toll-free at 1-877-829-5500.
• The Better Business Bureau has a charity division called the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. It provides information about charities, publishes a quarterly guide, issues scam alerts, and gives a national charity seal to vetted charities for display on their website and in their fundraising materials. You may also go to the BBB to complain about misleading charities.
• Contact the Georgia Attorney General’s office or the Secretary of State to learn which charities are licensed to operate in your area. You may also report suspicious solicitations here as well.
So what do you do if you receive an email or phone call that you believe to be phony? Well, if it’s an email with an attachment, do not open it! Opening an attachment is precisely how some scammers can steal your personal information. If it’s a phone call, never provide a credit card or bank account number over the phone unless you initiated the call. If you get an email or phone call that you believe might be legitimate, request printed materials from the charity before donating.
Most scammers are likely to not have any materials. Additionally, if you think you have illegally been solicited by an organization illegally claiming to be a non-profit, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting www.ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
Well budgeters, that’s all I have for you this week. Don’t forget to like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrittanyDenneyMcClure and follow me on Twitter @VDT_Brittany.