How To Spot And Avoid Charity Scams During Holidays

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HARRISBURG, PA. (Erie News Now) – Pennsylvania officials continue to warn residents about the increase in scams this time of season. 

Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) and Department of State (DOS) said charity scams become more common as people donate to charities around the holidays.

“The holiday season is a time many Pennsylvanians will generously support charities and nonprofit organizations through financial contributions,” said Secretary of Banking and Securities, Richard Vague in a press release on Monday.  “Unfortunately, there are also many bad actors seeking to prey on this generosity by masquerading as charities while redirecting funds for personal enrichment,” he added.

Both the DoBS and DOS are offering tips to help consumers make sure their contributions are going to legitimate charitable organizations.

According to the DoBS and DOS, the following are common red flags of charity scams:

Similar Sounding Name: Scammers often use names that sound similar to legitimate charities to intentionally create confusion.

High Pressure Solicitation: Fraudsters will try to force a hasty decision by turning up the pressure. They may cold call, identifying you as a previous contributor, and asking for your renewed support or to update your credit card information. These attempts rely on catching consumers off guard to extract financial information.

100% Guarantee: Most people want to ensure that their donations are going toward legitimate program expenses. Every organization has some level of administrative cost, which can include mailing and printing, rent and utilities, staff, or fundraising. An organization that promises that 100% of your funds are going directly to an individual in need might require additional scrutiny.

Donation by Wire Transfer or Gift Card: Legitimate charities will not ask you to make payment via money order or wire transfer. If you are being solicited for a donation and are asked to pay by these means, hang up immediately. A charity may ask for donations of gift cards such as from a grocery store to supply to someone in need. Never read the information from a gift card over the phone or provide it via email. After verifying the legitimacy of the charity, take any physical gift card donation directly to the location of the charity and request documentation of your contribution.

“The Department of State offers helpful tips on charitable giving to protect generous Pennsylvanians from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous groups. For example, it’s not a good idea to give money over the telephone unless you are already familiar with the organization,” said Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid in the same press release. “I encourage all donors to check out our tips and consider the recommendations below before giving,” she added.

Officials say you should never feel pressured to make a donation on the spot and that it’s important to take time to do research before sharing your money or information.

They also say you should check websites closely before donating. Charity scams can be vehicles for identity theft by directing victims to fake charity websites where personal and financial information are stolen.

There is a link to check whether an organization is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a Tax-Exempt Organization:

For the Department of State’s online charities database to verify an organization’s basic financial information about expenses for program services, fundraising, and management, visit:

You can contact DoBS at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-722-2657 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products.


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