(HELENA) The holiday season is full of family, friends, cheer and charitable giving. From dropping change in Salvation Army Red Kettles while out shopping, to writing a check your favorite charity, the options are endless. But with those options, comes the risk of getting scammed.
Montana’s Office of Consumer Protection works to education all Montanans on potential scams and offers resources to help those who believe they have lost money.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are crunch time when it comes to donating to charities in the community. It’s also prime time for scammers to take advantage of generous donors.
It’s important to know the signs of a fraudulent charity.
“An organization might have a very nice website, and a scammer would put up a website that looks very similar to it,” explained Kelley Hubbard, Assistant Montana Attorney General.
Hubbard says a scam can appear in many different forms, and even donating to a reputable charity over the phone can be risky.
“Particularly when a telemarketer calls you, soliciting donations and you donate, a lot of your donation could end up going to fund the telemarketers, rather than the good cause that you’d prefer your money go to,” Hubbard said.
Online donation is an option and so is going back to the basics.
“I always think it’s nice to just stop by a charity that’s local and hand your check to them so you can see your hard earned dollars at work doing good things in our community,” added Hubbard.
When thinking about giving a charitable donation, pay attention to the red flags:
Knowing Your Charity
Besides researching charities to prevent scams, it’s important to know which organizations you want to give your money to in the first place.
There are a few websites that allow you to learn about each charity’s financial background.
“Charity Navigator, Give.org, which is a project of the Better Business Bureau and Guide Star,” Hubbard explained.
Some donors fear their contributions will just go to executive salaries instead of beneficial programs. Hubbard explains any sort of donation can have restrictions attached that narrows the focus of implementation.
“But I would caution donors against that,” warned Hubbard.
Hubbard advises against donor restrictions because while programs are the backbone of many organizations;
“It’s also critically important that charities have the infrastructure to be able to carry out their mission,” explained Hubbard.
But anyway you decided to give, remember the donation is on your terms.
“No matter how touching the appeal is or how critical the need is, donors can take time to make the decision,” Hubbard said. “People shouldn’t feel pressured into making a donation.”
After donating, there are a few more options to ensure your contribution is used in a way you find appropriate.
Organizations are required to disclose their financial information. Donors can request a copy of their IRS 990 form, which is used for non-profit financial disclosure, tax exempt status and other federal purposes.
While the holiday season is one of the most charitable seasons, “This is yearlong advice.”
There are thousands of charities across the country and each one believes they serve those in need. Many national organizations have chapters in states and communities. There are examples of that in Helena and other Montana cities – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena, YMCA, YWCA and United Way of the Lewis & Clark Area are some examples.
MTN analyzed some financial information about these organizations.
You’ve Been Scammed. Now What?
The Office of Consumer Protection has issued 10 scam related warnings to Montanans in 2016 alone. But that number could be lower because it’s up to victims of scams to report the issue.
If you think you have been a victim of a scam, whether it’s during the holiday season or not, call the OCP. There are online forms that can be filled out to report the scam as well.
Reporter: Mikenzie Frost