The Villages Voice - December 2019

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Seniors -v- Crime - Avoid Charity Scams This Holiday Season

by Seniors -v- Crime

Seniors vs. Crime:

AVOID CHARITY SCAMS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

“There’s a pretty big spike in charitable giving at the end of the year,” according to Ashley Post, communications manager at Charity Navigator. “This is a critical time for charities … donors will notice a lot more mail hitting their mailbox; a lot more emails coming in from organizations.” That increased activity can draw attention from scammers who may look to impersonate legitimate charities to rip off donors and steal personal data. People looking to give should be on the lookout for scams. Here’s how to avoid charity fraud this holiday season. 
  1. Be wary of charitable solicitation requests.
There are many motivations for charity fraud, said Adam Levin, co-founder of identity protection company Cyberscout. Criminals want potential victims to take an action, like “clicking on a link, or giving information over [the] telephone.” The goal may be to pocket your cash, steal your identity or install malware or ransomware on your computer. Avoid responding directly to charitable solicitation requests such as emails or phone calls, even if you recognize the organization. Don’t click links or download attachments from these emails. Go directly to the charity’s website and initiate the donation yourself.
  1. Research the organization.
Criminals may set up a fake organization in response to current events, such as a natural disaster, intending to prey on sympathetic people. Too late, their victims will realize they don’t know where their money went and their donations aren’t tax-deductible. A few minutes of online research can foil these scams. For donations to be tax-deductible, charities must register with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. You can check the IRS list of tax-exempt organizations to ensure your donations are tax-deductible. Within Florida, charities must be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) in order to solicit within this state. You can check their registration by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or by going to their web site by typing “Check a Charity” into your browser.  For further research, check sites like Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or GiveWell. These websites contain charity databases that provide information on how charities spend their money.
  1. Only make secure donations
Legitimate charities should have multiple ways of accepting donations: cash, check, credit card, PayPal and other options. If the charity demands a specific donation type, such as cash or checks, this should be a warning sign. If they specifically request unusual forms of payment such as gift cards, that’s an even bigger red flag; it is a scam. Never give out sensitive information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number. Even information such as your mailing address or email address could be used to commit identity theft or run scams, so be careful with how you share your information.
  1. Take steps to protect yourself.
The actions of a few bad actors shouldn’t scare you off from making charitable donations. The majority of organizations are committed to their cause. But doing your research and taking steps to protect yourself can make a world of difference. Being smart with your financial data and personal information can help protect you from criminals. If you need assistance with understanding any aspects of charitable giving, contact the nearest Seniors vs. Crime office in The Villages for advice or assistance. There is never a charge for their services. Seniors vs. Crime can be reached at:
  • The Fruitland Park Police Department Annex in the Moyer Recreation Center in The Villages – (352) 674-1882
  • The Marion County Sheriff's Office in The Villages – (352) 753-7775
  • The Sumter County Sheriff's Office in The Villages – (352) 689-4600, Extension 4606
  • The Wildwood Police Department Annex at Brownwood in The Villages – (352) 753-0727
Volunteers’ at all four offices are ready, willing and able to assist you. To keep up with the latest scams, LIKE ‘Seniors vs. Crime Region 4’ on Face Book. Hablamos Español. Por favor pregunte por Yolanda. Martes a Viernes: 10:00 A.M. a 2:00 P.M., (352) 689 4606.