Donating to charity is a worthwhile endeavor, and it can even result in some tax savings if you itemize your deductions at tax time. Even if you’re donating to charity for the first time, or you’ve supported your favorite causes for a long time, it’s a good idea to ensure your donation is safe and the charity is legitimate.

Especially during times of social unrest, health crises, or disasters, criminals can fly under the radar and impersonate real charities. Continuing to support charitable causes is important, but you should do so safely. Here are some tips for avoiding fraud when you donate to charity.

  1. Avoid Inbound Solicitations

Criminals can pass themselves off as legitimate charities in many ways. The scammers may set up a fictional charity from scratch or use a similar name to entice unsuspecting donors.

Donors may want the victim to take action, such as clicking a link or downloading an attachment via email. Donors may ask the victim for personal information over the phone. You may be targeted by people who wish to steal your money, steal your identity, or infect your computer with ransomware.

Phishing scams can be avoided by ignoring inbound requests, such as emails or phone calls, even if they appear to be coming from a reputable source. Please do not follow links, download attachments, or provide information to unsolicited phone calls. To make a donation, visit the charity’s website directly.

  1. Research the Charity

Often, criminals will set up fake organizations to prey on sympathetic donors in response to current events, such as the Coronavirus pandemic or Black Lives Matter protests. Donations may disappear and may not even be tax deductible. Verify the legitimacy of an organization online by doing a few minutes of research.

A 501(c)(3) organization must be registered with the IRS in order to be eligible for tax-deductible donations. You can check the IRS list of 501(c)(3) organizations to make sure your donation is tax-deductible.

Check out charity rating websites like Charity Navigator or GiveWell for further research. You will find information on thousands of legitimate charities on these sites, including data on how efficiently your donation is used.

You can also check the local resources on charities in your state. Check for complaints. It’s a warning sign when you see multiple complaints online or with your state.

  1. Make Donations Safely

Donations to legitimate charities can be made with a variety of payment methods, including cash, check, credit card, PayPal and more. If the charity demands a specific payment type like cash, you should consider this a red flag. That’s an even bigger warning sign if they want unusual payment types, such as gift cards.

Donating with a credit card is one of the safer options. Legal protections are built-in, a record trail is kept of your donation, and they are not tied to your bank account. When you donate online, look for the padlock icon in your browser to indicate you’re on a secure site.

You can find instructions on how to donate directly on the charity’s website once you’re ready to give. Don’t provide personal information when it’s not necessary to make a donation, such as your Social Security number or bank account number. Be careful where you share your personal information, including your physical address, as this information can be used to run scams or commit identity theft.

Is your personal information on the dark web? Make sure your identity isn’t at risk!