Josh Stein

At the end of the year and during the holidays, people are at their most generous. We spend time with loved ones, buy gifts for each other, and give back to our communities through charitable donations. Unfortunately, scammers know this and they come out of the woodwork to try to take advantage of people’s generosity. To make sure your donations go to the purpose you want and not to line some scammer’s pocket, take these precautions.

Before you give anything, make sure to do your research on the charity or organization. It’s a good idea to donate to charities that you are personally familiar with or that operate visibly in your community. If researching online, double-check that the charity’s URL is legitimate by looking for a lock icon and an “https:” in the address bar. Copycat websites and apps will resemble a business’s brand name closely or have a URL that is similar to the real thing.

Don’t respond to unsolicited emails and text messages asking you to give. Although the cause may sound worthy of your hard-earned money, taking the time to verify an organization’s legitimacy is worth it.

Be careful of calls from charity fundraisers. Some telemarketers keep up to 90 percent of the money they collect for charities. Your money will go further if you give directly to the real charity, not to hired fundraisers. Also, scammers will often try to pressure you into donating. Remember that legitimate fundraisers will not push you to make a donation immediately.

If you are unsure whether a charity is the real deal, you can call my office’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM to check whether the charity has complaints against it or you can check its license with the Secretary of State. You can also research a charity’s ratings and history using resources including the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

Once you have chosen and verified a charity, it is best to pay by credit card for security and tax purposes. If you decide to pay by check, always make it out to the charity and not an individual.

For more information on common charity scams and how to avoid them, visit ncdoj.gov/charity. And if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/ or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. The holiday season is a special time of year, and I hope this season brings joy to you and your loved ones.

Josh Stein is the N.C. Attorney General. He can be reached at https://ncdoj.gov/contact-doj/

Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.