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Make sure you’re giving to a legitimate charity

W.G. Spoor

December 11, 2019

As the end of the year approaches, we see more charitable solicitations arriving in our mailboxes and by e-mail. Since some charities sell their contributor lists to other organizations, frequent contributors may find themselves besieged by requests from charities with which they aren’t familiar. 

Be careful: There are scammers out there pretending to be legitimate charities and looking to take advantage of your generosity. 

With this in mind, here are five tips to make sure your contributions go to legitimate charities:

  • When you are thinking about making a donation to a charity that you haven’t heard of before, take a few minutes to ensure that your gifts are going to a legitimate organization. The IRS has a search feature, Tax Exempt Organization Search, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.

  • You can always deduct gifts to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and government agencies, even if the Tax Exempt Organization Search tool does not list them in its database. 

  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate nonprofits.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Using a credit card to make legitimate donations is quite common, but be careful when you are speaking with someone who calls you; don’t give out your credit card number unless you are certain the caller represents a legitimate charity. One tip is to ask for a phone number you can call the person back at; if it’s a scam call, that will be the end of the conversation.

  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax-record purposes, contribute by check, credit card, or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Also, remember that charitable contributions aren’t deductible if you can’t substantiate them. Forms of substantiation can include a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or a written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the charity’s name, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

In addition, if the contribution is worth $250 or more, the donor must also get an acknowledgement from the charity for each deductible donation.

On top of giving money to a bogus organization, your donation to a charity that isn’t legitimate won’t be tax-deductible. So be vigilant, and if you have any questions related to charitable giving, give us a call.

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