The holidays put everyone in a giving mood. We dedicate days and weeks to finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones, and then spend the entire month of December patiently — or rather impatiently — waiting until we can watch our family, friends, and significant others open the gifts we’ve bought for them.

The look on their faces as we watch them unwrap their presents is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world, but it also makes us think about all the people who don’t get to celebrate like we do. During a season where our giving spirit is at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that people are more charitable towards the end of the year.

But this year is different from other years. As the coronavirus pandemic comes into its second wave, it seems dangerous to visit nursing homes, homeless shelters, and adoption agencies to spread cheer. Risking exposure to COVID-19 not only puts us in harm’s way, but could be perilous for others. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, more people are turning to online donations instead. 

Yet, as we all know, any time the internet is involved, you can be at risk. Hackers and scam artists know there will be a spike in online giving during the holidays, so they will work overtime to compromise your good intentions. 

Below are some tips for how to give safely and cautiously to organizations to ensure your money is truly helping the causes you want to support.

Research an organization before you donate

If you’re new to online giving or want to support a different organization this year, you’ll likely find yourself on Google typing in various keywords to get you to a charity you want to support. ‘Best charity for kids’ or ‘organizations that fight hunger’ might be some of the keyword phrases you enter, and it will likely pull up a lot of great results. However, some of these could actually be fraudulent sites. If you want to know for sure, there are a few things you can do:

  • You can use these organizations to confirm the authenticity of a foundation
  • You can search the name of the charity alongside keywords like ‘compliant’, ‘scam’, or ‘reviews’ to see if anything comes up
  • You can use to see the Reputation Scores and Reputation Profiles of the people working at these organizations to make sure they are legitimate employees before you interact with them

Be careful how you pay

Never make a donation to a charity that asks you to give them cash or to wire them money. This is how scammers ask for payment because it’s the best way to ensure nothing can be traced back to them. Always pay by card or check, and be sure to keep records of all of your donations. This will not only be important come tax time, but it allows you to refute a payment if it doesn’t match the amount you agreed upon at the onset.

Know the potential tricks of a scammer

Over time, scammers can get incredibly good at what they do, but there will always be red flags if you understand some of their behaviors. Charities obviously want your donations in order to fulfill their missions, but if someone is pleading with you to donate as soon as possible, it could be a scam. Scammers will also slightly modify the name of an existing charity to get you to mistakenly donate to them, so research the names of foundations very carefully before you make a payment. Also, read a foundation’s website before you donate. If they make incredibly vague and sentimental claims but don’t actually tell you how they use their donations, they are likely a fraud. 

Times of crisis need our charitable efforts more than ever, but be sure you don’t fall prey to a charity scam this holiday season.