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EDITORIAL: Spread good tidings, but beware of cybergrinches

Posted 11/22/22

Cybercriminals don’t care if you’ve been nice — or trying to do good for those in need this holiday season.

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EDITORIAL: Spread good tidings, but beware of cybergrinches

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Cybercriminals don’t care if you’ve been nice — or trying to do good for those in need this holiday season.

But New York State Division of Consumer Protection has some advice on how to avoid charity scams by these cybergrinches — who often pose as a legitimate charity in order to steal your money.

Charity scams can happen at any time, but they are more prevalent during the holiday season or after a natural disaster or emergencies collecting millions of dollars from unsuspecting donors. On many occasions, these fraudsters pretend to be affiliated with well-known organizations or even the government to scam people out of their money.

The Federal Trade Commission said about 2.8 million people nationwide reported being victims of someone pretending to be a trusted charity source in 2021 causing loses of about $2.3 billion.

Tips and advice on avoiding charity scams:

• Check the legitimacy of the charitable organization. Research the charity by searching the New York State Attorney General’s online database of registered charities at www.charitiesnys.com, as well as the charity’s own website. If donating toward relief efforts after a natural disaster, check the website www.disasterphilanthropy.org.

• Learn how to detect a phony charity. Some scammers will try to trick you with similar names of well-known charities. Pay attention to the charity’s name, web address, logos and more. Scammers often mimic the names of familiar, trusted organizations to fool donors.  

• Designate your donation. Find out what percentage of your donation will go directly toward the cause as opposed to administrative costs. Ask the charity whether you can designate your donation to a specific effort rather than a general contribution fund.  

• Pay attention to vague claims. Pay attention to language such as “all proceeds go to charity” or “your purchase will benefit a charity.” A disclosure should be provided that includes the actual or estimated purchase price amount the charity will get.  

• Resist high-pressure tactics. Charity fraud scams can come in many forms, whether by email, social media, crowdfunding platforms, or cold calls. Watch out for direct e-mails from victims and solicitors who employ heart-wrenching stories, insisting that you donate immediately.  

• Find out who’s behind the crowdfunding request. Online platforms like GoFundMe make it easy for people to create crowdfunding campaigns. To protect yourself, remember to give to people you know directly. It’s also important to understand the crowdfunding site’s rules and policies.  

• Do not disclose personal or financial information to unsolicited requests. Never give your Social Security number, credit card or debit card number or other personal identifying information in response to an unsolicited charitable request.  

• Avoid giving cash. Give your contribution by check or credit card to ensure that you have a record of the donation. Make checks out to the charity, not to an individual. If you choose to make a donation via a charity’s website, check that the website is secure and that your computer is equipped with the latest anti-virus protection. Do not send contributions with a runner, by wire or overnight parcel pick-up.  

• Don’t assume. Check out an organization’s tax status at www.IRS.gov/apps/eos to find out if the donation is tax deductible. Ask for a receipt and trace the status of your donation.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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