Unfortunately, it is time to update a blog from some time ago, warning about unscrupulous scammers out there trying to take advantage of the good intentions of the American taxpaying public with fake charities. (See previous blog post, though many of the same suggestions still apply, but with updated information.).
The IRS issued a warning about possible fake charities due to Hurricane Harvey. While there has been an enormous wave of support across the country for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, people should be aware of criminals who look to take advantage of this generosity by impersonating charities to get money or private information from well-meaning taxpayers. Such fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person solicitations.
- Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on IRS.gov. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making legitimate tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it also provides complete details on what records to keep.
- Be wary of charities with similar names. Some phony charities use names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. They may use names or websites that sound or look like those of legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
- Don’t give out personal financial information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card and bank account numbers and passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists use this information to steal your identity and money. Yes, so not only are you contributing to a fake charity, you are also at risk for identity theft. Remember – a qualified charity does not need your Social Security number to send you a receipt for your donation – it is not a matching document for IRS purposes.
- Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
- Report suspected fraud. Taxpayers suspecting tax or charity-related fraud should visit IRS.gov and perform a search using the keywords “Report Phishing.”
Details on available relief can be found on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov. For the latest on scams discovered by the IRS, please search on IRS.gov for Scams and Schemes – pages of hits come up on that. Seriously, pages. Beware and be careful.
By the way, in case you are wondering, the IRS.gov website has received a facelift – make sure you are on the correct website!
Donna H. Laubscher, CPA