I love that Subaru commercial where the little kid (he's 5!) imagines what it would be like to drive his dad's car. My favorite part is when he exasperatedly utters, "People."
That's how I feel today after the Internal Revenue Service felt compelled to issue a warning about possible fake charity scams popping up in connection with the deadly flooding this month in South Carolina and neighboring states.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Crooks and con artists look for any hook they can to separate us from our money.
It happened after the devastating Haitian earthquake. Criminals also targeted charitable individuals after Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans in 2012. The scammers came out in force later in 2012 in the wake of Super Storm Sandy's march through the MidAtlantic region.
That's why IRS Commissioner John Koskinen issued an official statement about scams related to the South Carolina flooding.
Con artists taking advantage of tragedy: "When making donations to assist flood victims in South Carolina and elsewhere, taxpayers should take steps to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities," said Koskinen.
The IRS notes that these fraudulent schemes, in which scam artists impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers, may involve contact by telephone, social media, email or in-person solicitations.
The IRS offers several tips to help you avoid these crooks and help the real victims in South Carolina, as well as others who sustain damages in other disasters at any time.
Know your charities: Donate only to recognized charities. That means also being wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
Check out the charities: In order to make sure the charity to which you want to give is legit, check it out first.
The IRS website has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, to help you do this. It lists legitimate, qualified charities. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website at www.fema.gov.
This is also is important if you itemize and plan to deduct your gifts to charity.
Don't give out personal financial information: Crooks are always looking for your Social Security number, your credit card and bank account numbers, and passwords to your financial accounts. Don't share this with anyone who calls, especially not people purporting to be a charity. Once they get this data, they can steal all your money and your identity.
Don't donate cash: Not only is this an easy way to lose your money, it won't do you any good if you plan to deduct your donation. You need substantiation for deduction purposes, and that's available through copies of checks or credit card receipts showing your charitable gift details.
Don't go to bogus websites: If you get an email with a link to a supposed website where you can make donations to disaster victims, don't go there. These fake websites tend to mimic the sites of, or use names similar to, legitimate charities. If you want to give online, then go to the legitimate charitable website yourself, never through a link in an email. Even if you don't give at the fake charity Web page, just clicking over there could give crooks access to your computer.
If you get a suspicious disaster-related email, go to www.IRS.gov and search for the keywords "Report Phishing." Then provide the IRS the info asked there so that it can add the scam to its database that it uses to combat tax fraud.
Those who are struggling to recover from such catastrophic events appreciate all the help that we can provide. Make sure it gets to those who need it, and not into the hands of scuzzy crooks, by being careful when anyone asks for disaster related donations.
UPDATE, Oct. 15: More counties have been added to the IRS' South Carolina flooding disaster relief area.
The main thing is the option to claim the flood losses on an amended 2014 tax return in order to get much-needed tax refund money now, instead of waiting to claim then on 2015 taxes filed next year.
Plus, the extension of the already extended Oct. 15 filing deadline was pushed to Feb. 16, 2016.
You can also find more about taxes as they relate to disasters and charitable giving at the ol' blog's special Storm Warnings page.
Also over at Bankrate Taxes Blog this last week was a post on another impending tax deadline. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has alerted Congress that it needs to approve a new federal debt ceiling soon because Uncle Sam is going to run out of money to pay his bills by Nov. 5.
I usually post my additional tax thoughts at Bankrate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Last this week, though, they went online on Tuesday and Wednesday.
That jump is why instead of posting links and highlights here on the ol' blog this coming weekend, I'm announcing those other posts today.
And that means we all can start the weekend early!
Find more tax news and tips at the Don't Mess With Taxes home page.