IRS warns of uptick in charity scams during the holidays

With the holidays here, the IRS is warning about an uptick in charity scams that try to take advantage of the "season of giving."

The IRS says that with these scams, criminals typically seek money and personal information, which can be used for identity theft.

The IRS suggests doing research before donating to a cause, as well as avoiding charities that demand an immediate contribution or pressure people into donating.

Those who wish to make donations can use the IRS's Tax-Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool to help find and/or verify qualified, legitimate charities. With this tool, people can:

  • Verify the legitimacy of a charity
  • Check its eligibility to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions
  • Search for information about an organization's tax-exempt status and filings

In addition to the TEOS tool, people can use the Better Business Bureau to view BBB-accredited charities and other resources like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch.

In addition, the IRS urges anyone encountering a fake or suspicious charity to see the FBI's resources on Charity and Disaster Fraud.

How do I protect myself from a fake charity scam?

The IRS says that fake charity promoters may use emails, fake websites, or alter or "spoof" their caller ID to make it look like a real charity is calling to solicit donations. 

Criminals also often target seniors and groups with limited English proficiency, says the IRS.

Here are some tips to protect yourself against fake charity scams:

  • Verify first: Scammers frequently use names that sound like well-known charities to confuse people. Potential donors should ask the fundraiser for the charity's exact name, website and mailing address so they can independently confirm the information. Use TEOS to verify if an organization is a legitimate tax-exempt charity.
  • Don't give in to pressure: Scammers often pressure people into making an immediate payment. In contrast, legitimate charities are happy to get a donation at any time. Donors should not feel rushed.
  • Don't give more than needed: Scammers are on the hunt for both money and personal information. Taxpayers should treat personal information like cash and not hand it out to just anyone.
  • Be wary about how a donation is requested: Never work with charities that ask for donations by giving numbers from a gift card or by wiring money. That's a scam. It's safest to pay by credit card or check — and only after verifying the charity is real.

Taxpayers who give money or goods to a charity can claim a deduction if they itemize deductions, but these donations only count if they go to a qualified tax-exempt organization recognized by the IRS.