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Don't get swindled: Tips to prevent holiday giving scams

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 5:36 p.m.
Rebecca Emanuele | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA

As it is Holiday Scam Protection Week, the state Department of Banking and Securities and the Department of State offer tips for safe giving during the holidays.

“Charity scams occur all year long, but unfortunately criminals may be more active during the holiday season when they know you are eager to share with those in need,” Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann said in a statement.

How these scams work:

Fake charities will use names similar to those of well-known organizations; can contact you via email, phone or door-to-door, and sometimes will direct victims to bogus websites to steal their identities.

Tips to avoid holiday charity scams:

• Ignore email or text solicitations for donations from unknown organizations.

• Never give cash or write out a check to an individual solicitor. When writing a check, make it payable to the organization or pay via credit card.

• Never feel pressured to make a donation on the spot before doing your homework

• Research an organization before making a donation:

Check with the Internal Revenue Service to make sure the organization asking you for money is registered as a 501(c) corporation, which means your donation is tax deductible:

Contact the Pennsylvania Department of State to verify that the charity asking you for money is legally registered: The charities online database makes readily available basic financial information about the expenses for program services, fundraising and management for all registered organizations.

The Department of State's website also provides a list of organizations which have been subject to corrective actions taken by the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations . The public may also call 1-800-732-0999.

You can also check the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance for information on charities:

• Verify claims of someone soliciting donations and do not hesitate to ask questions, such as the purpose of the organization and how your donation will be used.

If a charity claims to be helping a local organization such as a police or fire department, check with that organization to see if they are indeed fundraising and using that organization.

• Check website addresses carefully since scammers often will create websites and names that are very similar to legitimate, reputable organizations. Check the spelling of the organization's name and the URL very closely for discrepancies.

• Contact the organization directly with your financial contribution, in-kind donation, or to volunteer if you are unsure of whether a solicitor is representing a legitimate charitable organization.

Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-600-0007 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products. Members of the public are also invited to connect to the department through Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to the department's newsletter.

To file a complaint about any charity soliciting donations in the Commonwealth, contact the Department of State's Charities Investigations/Audits Unit at 717-787-0700, by email at, or by mail at 401 North St., Room 212, Harrisburg, PA, 17120.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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