With Hurricane Harvey having left behind record-setting devastation - and Hurricane Irma having done the same across the Southern U.S. - Americans are donating money and supplies to charitable organizations like never before. Millions has been raised for and on behalf of such organizations as The American Red Cross, The United Way, The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and more.
Unfortunately, for as many legitimate charities there are raising money for the countless victims who were displaced by the disaster, there are scammers and criminals taking advantage of the tragedy.
The IRS certainly doesn't want to discourage people from giving to their fellow Americans in need, but they advise that people proceed with caution when making a charitable contribution. The IRS even offers an Exempt Organizations Select Check (known colloquially as the "Charity Checker") to determine if an organization soliciting donations is a legitimate one.
In addition, the IRS offers the following tips for people considering donating to disaster relief in the midst of the current devastating hurricanes:
- Donate only to registered charities
- Never give out social security numbers, credit card numbers, PIN numbers/passwords or bank account numbers when contributing to charity; this personal information can be used by identity thieves
- Be cautious when contacted by organizations with names or websites that are similar - but not exactly the same - as legitimate charities; an example of this would be a group called the "Red Cross of the Americas" instead of "The American Red Cross®"
- Don't make cash donations; paying by check or credit card not only leaves a "paper trail" for tax deduction purposes, but also makes it more difficult for your donation to be misused
If you suspect that you've been contacted by a scammer trying to solicit funds falsely, report the person or group to the IRS or other federal authorities. More information about legitimate charitable donations can be found on the IRS' disaster relief page.