How many email and snail mail charity solicitations have you received in the last couple of weeks? In our real and virtual mailboxes, it's already nearing 100.
Yes, the end-of-year donation season is shifting into high gear.
Unfortunately, that also means that criminals will be trying to take advantage of people's generous tendencies.
Such nefarious attempts are why this week the Internal Revenue Service is participating in the second annual International Charity Fraud Awareness Week (ICFAW). ICFAW is led by a coalition of over 40 charities, regulators, law enforcers, representative bodies and other not-for-profit stakeholders.
Awareness is key to stopping scams: This combined charity convergence, which runs through Friday, Oct. 25, aims to raise awareness and share practices to help charities and other not-for-profit organizations avoid fraud and stop financial crime.
A key feature of this year's campaign is the Charity Fraud Awareness Hub. This online collection of resources also allows charity professionals and counter-fraud experts to discuss and share ideas through a series of live interactive webinars, help sheets and case studies.
If you're not able to attend this week's events, but are interested in learning more, check the Fraud Advisory Panel website for more on how to get involved.
And everyone, from anti-fraud professionals to charity workers to all of us who want to help out, also can follow ICFAW activities on social media by searching #CharityFraudOut.
Donors need to stay alert, too: While the ICFAW activities this week are for nonprofit personnel and those who work with tax-exempt groups, the key lesson to always be careful applies to all us donors, too.
Fake charities are a regular in the IRS' annual Dirty Dozen tax scams. It comes in at #8 on the 2019 list.
The warning from March is still true today:
Fake Charities: Groups masquerading as charitable organizations solicit donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations.
Check out charities: If you're interested in donating to a charity and you haven't heard of it before, be sure to check it out carefully.
Often, tax identity thieves and crooks use names for their phony charities that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. They also create websites for these phony charities that mimic the legitimate groups.
Legitimate nonprofits register with the IRS.
Not only does this IRS imprimatur protect you, it means that you can claim your charitable gift as an itemized deduction if your wish.
You can find information on legitimate and qualified charities by using the IRS' online Tax Exempt Organization Search tool.
Get the real news on scams: Also stay on top of the latest tax scam attempts and tricks.
The IRS regularly updates its special Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts Web page.
You also can find my posts on such criminal efforts by clicking on the ol' blog's Scams and Identity Theft categories. Note that since they show up most recent first, this post will be at the top. Just keep scrolling.
Alert the authorities: While the IRS and Federal Trade Commission do a good job of discovering, alerting people about and shutting down identity theft scams, you can help out by letting authorities know when you are approached by these criminals.
In cases of phishing emails where criminals try to get you to divulge your personal information, either through offers of money or tax refunds or by threats of imminent arrest or by appealing to your charitable nature, the IRS says:
- Don't reply.
- Don't open any attachments. They can contain malicious code that may infect your computer or mobile phone.
- Don't click on any links. If you did, visit the agency's identity protection for further steps to take.
- Forward the scam email, preferably with its full headers (to, from, subject, etc. info), to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forward scanned images because this removes valuable information. Also report instances of IRS-related phishing attempts and fraud to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at its website or by calling toll-free 1-800-366-4484.
- Delete the original email.
If the questionable charity solicitation or other suspicious tax-related contact — including, but not limited to, allegedly unpaid taxes, telemarketing robocalls, fake grants, tech support or sweepstakes winnings — is by telephone, hang up.
Don't engage with the caller. Definitely don't give out any information or make a donation then by using a credit card.
Stay positive and philanthropic: Finally, don't let scummy fake charity creators dissuade you from giving.
If you do want to donate to a charity that you've thoroughly checked out, you should initiate the phone call to the organization or go to its website yourself.
Keep up the good work. Keep on giving. And keep an eye out year-round for the criminals trying to undermine charitable efforts.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Beware of fake charities in the wake of disasters
- Beware: There's a new IRS imposter email tax scam
- 6 ways to avoid tragedy-related crowdfunding scams