As #GivingTuesday kick-starts the giving season, everywhere we look are worthy causes or people in need who tug at our heart- and purse-strings. This is a time of year when a lot of consumers naturally turn their attention to charitable giving. Maybe it’s the undercurrent of consumerism at this time of year that makes us want to give as much as we get or the recognition that some of us have so much while others have so little. Either way, there is a lot of good to be done, as well as a lot of charities who can benefit from your generosity.
At the same time, there are just as many (if not more) scammers waiting to take advantage of your goodwill. In order to ensure that your donation goes to the greater good while your funds and your personal data remain secure, here are a few tips to guide your giving:
Be Careful with the Impulse Donation. A lot of scams work by not giving you time to think through the issue; that’s why “act now!” scams are so common. But when it comes to making a donation to a worthy cause, that same pressure to give can lead you to expose your information and your financial accounts to someone who doesn’t have noble intentions.
Before sending in any donation, do your homework. Make sure you find out who the organization really is and how the funds they collect are used. It’s also important to know what information they will gather on you as a donor and how they will use and/or store that information. By using a vetted portal that sets up campaigns for an organization, you’ll have a better sense of the legitimacy of the cause and the security of your data.
Don’t Fall for Phishing Attempts. Whether via email, text message, social media, or phone, phishing attempts increase around the holidays. Some of the messages will entice you to send money, some will go after your personal identifiable information for identity theft purposes, and others may be after both. Phishing messages can even contain malicious links or attachments that can install harmful software on your computer.
Common charity-related phishing attempts can include pleas to “click here to support this crowdfunding campaign,” requests for common hoaxes to be liked and shared, emails for those affected by disasters like Hurricane Harvey or the California wildfires, and much more. Avoid the threat by making it a policy to never click a link or open an attachment unless you were specifically expecting it.
Spoofed Emails Look Like the Real Deal. You’ve probably received a few emails over the years whose grammar and tone were so bad they were almost funny like the Nigerian Prince scam. But some spoofed emails can be very hard to distinguish from the real thing. A spoofed email appears to come from an organization you know, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or the ASPCA, but it’s actually a malicious replica using cut-and-pasted logos from the real website.
There are a few ways to spot a spoofed email, though. Even the best of scammers can make a grammatical error, something that major companies with PR departments work very hard to avoid. Also, if you hover your mouse over the sender’s email address, it will pop up and show you who sent it. Finally, there’s no reason to respond to an email or other message; if you do want to support that charity, log out of the email and simply go directly to the charity’s website.
Are You Thinking about Wi-Fi When You Give? Scammers Are. So when you’re finally ready to give confidently to a charity, there are a variety of ways to pay. Obviously, most of them will take a debit card, credit card, or secure payment method to handle the transfer of funds for you.
Getting the funds to the organization in a timely, effective way is easier than ever thanks to online giving. However, you might not have considered the dangers of sending sensitive personal information or financial access information over public Wi-Fi. For years, consumers have been warned about public Wi-Fi connections at readily available hotspots. These convenient ways to access the Internet have made life easier in some ways but have also opened the door to letting a cybercriminal access your sensitive accounts.
The combination of a charitable donation and the wide-open, unsecured connection offered by public Wi-Fi means you might be putting yourself at risk. Think twice about someone else who could be lurking on the connection and stealing your payment information or personal data.
A number of organizations are counting on consumers as the year comes to a close, and you can give safely and confidently. Just make sure to follow some key best practices for protecting yourself and the recipients of your generosity. For more information on spotting a scam and avoiding crimes like fraud and identity theft, be sure to check out the Identity Theft Resource Center’s page at IDTheftCenter.org.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is a nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft, data breaches, cyber security, scams/fraud, and privacy issues.