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Before You Make that Donation, Read This!

Following major disasters, it is common for scam artists to impersonate charities to obtain personal information and money from well-intentioned donors. Such fraudulent schemes may be conducted by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person solicitations.

This year, there will likely be tornado, hurricane, fire and flood disasters. Unfortunately, we will also hear reports about money given in good faith to address the needs of victims of such disasters being stolen by scams that will inevitably take place.

There are steps that you can take to avoid being caught up in one of these scams. Last November, the Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert to advise about scams taking place in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan which impacted the Philippines. The IRS cautions people wishing to make any disaster-related charitable donations to be alert by following these tips:

– To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.

– Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find legitimate, qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax deductible. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website at fema.gov.

– Don’t give out personal financial information – such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords – to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.

– Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check, credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

In the event of a disaster, the Sonora Area Foundation will often consult with the Council on Foundations, a national organization of which we are a member, for the names of legitimate charities that are working on specific disaster relief and recovery. On occasion, as with Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we may set up a fund here at the Foundation to receive local donations that are then forwarded to legitimate organizations.

If you have any questions about the organization you are about to make a gift to, give Lin, Cathi or I a call at 533-2596 and let us help make sure that your dollars are going where you intend for them to go. Don’t let the scam artists win and steal your gift!