When disasters strike the American people, it can be a beautiful thing to witness the country coming together to support and rally around those affected. Unfortunately though, there are many who choose to take advantage during times of need.

The IRS issued a recent warning cautioning against potential charity scams in the wake of Hurricane Harvey (and likely Hurricane Irma as well). Some individuals may attempt to impersonate charities in an effort to either receive money or valuable personal information from taxpayers. Scammers may contact you via email, social media, telephone or even approach you in person. The largest percentage of scamming attempts are often made through email, though.

Fraudulent parties can masquerade as charities or associate themselves with known charitable causes by either using similar names or imitating the website of a legitimate charity. These emails may encourage taxpayers to give money or provide private financial information that can be used to apprehend your financial resources, or even your identity. The IRS has provided a set of helpful tips and resources to avoid being taken advantage of:

  • Make sure you are donating to recognized, and reputable, charities.
  • Do not give or send cash. Most reputable organizations will ask for a check, credit card or some form of reliable online payment system such as PayPal. These avenues provide you with specific documentation of the payment given for both tax and security purposes.
  • Be cautious of charities with names similar to known charities, but with just a small difference, or with a different logo. Visit the IRS website for a list of qualified, tax-exemptible charities.
  • NEVER give out personal information such as passwords, bank account numbers or Social Security numbers. Trustworthy organizations should not ask you for this type of information in order to donate, so take caution when these particulars are requested.
  • Keep records of all charitable donations made. Not only could this help you in the event of fraudulent behavior, but it will be beneficial come tax season when it’s time to make deductions. The IRS website provides a free booklet that includes details on what records to keep and specific tax rules for making tax-deductible donations.  

If you suspect you have been a victim of fraud, or been contacted by scammers, visit the IRS website to report phishing schemes.

Peter McAllister, CPA