With the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, many Americans feel the urge to help. It’s probably no surprise, then, that we are seeing an upsurge of notices, ads, and appeals to provide financial assistance to organizations that claim to be aiding Ukrainian children, refugees, and other groups in legitimate, dire need. No doubt, you’re seeing these pleas on your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, your Instagram account, and probably even in your email in-box.
It’s not only admirable, but also important to offer assistance to worthy causes such as these. But sadly, legitimate organizations aren’t the only ones asking for your money. Scammers are also aware of your good impulses, and they are ready to do all they can to take advantage. As a recent article from the nonprofit CharityWatch.org notes, you should do your best to make sure your donation is really doing what you intend. They recommend steps like donating directly to organizations instead of passing the funds through a purported solicitor or middleman; avoiding crowdfunded efforts; carefully scrutinizing the claims of solicitors; and above all, doing your own research on the charities themselves.
That last point is really important, and fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission has some very useful advice to help you be both effective and smart with your giving. Here are some helpful tips.
- Have a list of “pre-certified” charities. Declining to give to a new charity, even a worthy one, doesn’t make you selfish; it just means you have already particular giving priorities that match your interests. Long-established groups like SaveTheChildren.org, Catholic Relief Services (crs.org), and the American Red Cross (redcross.org) are providing valuable service in Ukraine, and your gift can help them do more.
- Do some research. The internet can be your friend. Get the name of the charity requesting your gift and do a Google search with the name of the charity and a word like “complaints.” If there have been scams operating in the name of the charity, you’re likely to get a hit that you can use to do a little more digging. Additionally, several groups provide online guides to legitimate charitable groups, including:
- The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance
- American Institute of Philanthropy’s CharityWatch
These watchdog organizations can provide you not only with scam warnings but also with background information on legitimate charities you may be considering, including financial statements, percentage of gifts distributed, and other helpful information.
- Be careful how you pay. If the requestor pressures you for a cash payment or some kind of wire transfer, be wary. Payments by check or secure credit card transfer are accepted by any legitimate charity. If you have questions about whether a particular online giving portal is trustworthy, take some time to read the FTC’s informational article, “Donating through an Online Giving Portal.” Be sure to keep a receipt of all gifts and, if you do give via credit card, examine your statements to make sure the amount you were charged agrees with the amount you allocated.
- Watch for scammers’ typical tricks. Don’t let anyone pressure you into giving until you’ve received all the information you need. Listen for charity names that are close to—but not exactly the same as—well-known charities, such as “A Child’s Wish Foundation” instead of the legitimate group, Make a Wish Foundation (http://wish.org/). If you receive an email or phone “thank you” for a donation you don’t remember making, along with a request for “another” gift, it’s probably a scam. If the requestor seems hesitant to provide contact information for the organization or to confirm basic information, such as what percentage of your gift will go directly to the charity, terminate the contact. Guaranteeing you entry into a sweepstakes in exchange for a gift is a sure sign of a scam, since FTC rules prohibit requiring a gift or purchase for entry in sweepstakes. Ultimately, if anything about the solicitation gives you pause or makes you uncomfortable, ask for a contact phone number or internet address, and then do your research. Legitimate charities will welcome the opportunity to gain your confidence, and scammers will run the other direction.
Especially during difficult times, offering a gift to a worthy cause provides as much to the giver as it does to the recipient—if not more. So, by all means, allow your generosity to overflow, but be sure to exercise careful judgment. When you do, everyone wins.
At Empyrion Wealth Management, our commitment to helping clients honor their most important values means that we offer professional, fiduciary guidance on charitable giving, philanthropic estate planning, and more. To learn more, click here to read our article, “Family Stewards: Don’t Overlook These Charitable Giving Tools.”
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