There has been an enormous wave of support across the country for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. However, there are also criminals who try to take advantage of people’s generosity. Fraudulent schemes often involve telephone, social media, e-mail or even in-person scams. Criminals may also send emails using false websites that appear to be legitimate charitable causes. These sites frequently use names similar to legitimate charities, or claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities, when their only goal is to scam money or obtain personal financial information that can be used for identity theft.
To help you avoid scams when making a charitable donation, the IRS provides the following tips:
- Only donate to recognized charities.
- Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, that helps people find qualified charities. One thing to keep in mind is donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
- Avoid giving out your personal financial information, such as your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
- Never give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card.
- Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making legitimate tax-deductible donations. It also provides complete details on what records to keep.
The IRS also has a tool available which can help to verify that a charity has been granted tax-exempt status and can receive charitable contributions at https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/. The IRS also provides additional resources and assistance to those affected by these disasters. See https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations for more information.
When disaster strikes, it’s natural to want to reach out and help. Don’t let scammers stop you. At RPB, we are always ready to help our clients and our community.
Article by Brad Voght, C.P.A.