Giving to your favorite charity or nonprofit feels great. But as online giving has become easier than ever, online charity scams have become more prevalent. With only a couple of clicks, you could find yourself giving your hard-earned money or personal information to someone who is capable of causing considerable damage to your bottom line.
Although there is a learning curve to identifying these scams, with a careful eye you can mitigate your risk. Here are some pointers to help you give online safely and effectively.
Verify where you are giving
It may sound obvious, but make sure to verify any website or organization before donating. We recommend verifying 2 different aspects: legitimacy and nonprofit status.
Even if you are donating to a well-known charity or nonprofit, make sure to check the legitimacy of the website where you are giving money. Scammers often use a common tactic of making a look-alike website that can be a near exact copy of the charity or nonprofit's site. These are typically shared via social media and email. Make sure to look carefully at the URL of any site you are giving money on to see that it is legitimate and not a fake look-alike. The URL can be difficult for scammers to fake.
Additionally, it is a good idea to verify the nonprofit status of any organization you are donating to. Anyone who donates their money wants to ensure that those funds are being used responsibly, and that there could be a tax benefit (if it applies). There are great independent resources where you can verify nonprofits, including GuideStar a database of over 1.8 million nonprofit organizations that summarizes each one's mission, programs, and financials. Also, Fidelity Charitable has content dedicated to helping you research charities, with additional information on how to evaluate a charity, and more tools and resources to make the most of your charitable dollars.
Be careful how you choose to pay
Online payment platforms vary greatly from site to site, but we came up with a few tips to help ensure your safety when transferring money for a donation.
Make sure you are on a secure website. Some browsers indicate a secure website with a small lock symbol near the URL, and some do not, but either way secure sites are identified as “https://” before the website URL. Secure websites encrypt your data on their site, which further protects your information against cybercrime.
Consider paying by credit card, not debit card. Credit cards often have different liability standards than debit cards. If your personal information is stolen, you could be more protected by paying with a credit card than a debit card. Scammers will often prompt you to donate by a gift card or money wire. Be skeptical if a charity or nonprofit asks for payment in either of these 2 forms.
Keep good records. Once you have donated, keep a copy of the confirmation screen and any emailed or mailed confirmation you receive for your donation. If you do not receive any confirmation, call the charity or nonprofit to inquire. It can be wise to keep both a digital and paper copy of any donation confirmation or receipts for your records, and for when you are doing your taxes if it applies.
Protect your digital footprint
Also, be mindful of vendors and third-party payment companies within a nonprofit's website that may have different privacy policies than the nonprofit itself. Be especially careful with links to websites from pop-ups, social media, or email, particularly when they directly prompt you to enter personal information.
Finally, remember when in doubt, it is always a good idea to take a second look to make sure that where you are donating is legitimate, and not a scam. To help make the most of you money when donating, consider visiting Fidelity Charitable.