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Attorney General Stein’s November Column: Make Your Donations Count this Holiday Season

November 2023

The holiday season is fast approaching, and the spirit of giving is in the air. For many North Carolinians, this is a time for giving back by donating to charities. But for scammers, it’s a time to prey on their goodwill. As charities begin reaching out to folks to support their cause, scammers will do the same to try and trick people into giving to a scammer instead. If you plan to give money to a charity or non-profit this holiday season, be sure to take extra precaution and make sure your money makes a difference.

Research the organization. Make sure your money is going to a legitimate program. If you are unsure, you can call our office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or check its license with the Secretary of State. You can also research a charity’s ratings and history through the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

Don’t respond to unsolicited calls, emails, or text messages. Solicitation messages may look or sound legitimate and they may pull at your heartstrings, but they could be phishing scams. If you already know the causes or charities that you want to support, contact the organization directly.

Watch out for social media and crowdfunding scams. Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe help people support causes and are shared widely on social media platforms. However, scammers can use these platforms to trick you into donating to a fake cause. Before you give, take time to research the organizer. If you can’t find them online or if their details don’t match up with the post, don’t contribute. Only give to a crowdfunding campaign if you can verify the identity of the organizer and that the money is going to those who need it.

Never pay with a wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to donate by credit card. Scammers will specifically ask you to use other payment types because it is more difficult to dispute a transaction and get your money back. And if you pay by check, make it out to the charity itself, not the fundraiser. Legitimate charities will never ask you to donate by purchasing or redeeming gift cards for people affiliated with them.

If you’re feeling pressured to give immediately, don’t. Sometimes, telemarketers make commissions on the donations they raise and will use pressure tactics to get you to make a financial decision you could later regret. Generally, legitimate charities will never try to pressure you or rush you into giving. It’s best to reach out to your charity of choice directly to donate.

The holidays are a time for each of us to spend time with loved ones and to give back to our communities. If you plan to give, make sure your donation goes to the cause you care about, not to line the pockets of criminals. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/complaint or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

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