HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Many people donate to charities during the holiday season, and it is important to make sure those donations go to legitimate charitable organizations.  

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities and Pennsylvania Department of State warn of the following red flags that may indicate a charity scam:  

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  • Similar names: Scammers may use names that sound like those of legitimate charities. Make sure your money goes to the correct place. 
  • High-pressure solicitation: Scammers may try to force you to make a quick decision with strategies like cold calling and/or identifying you as a previous donor and asking for renewed support and updated credit card information. 
  • 100% guarantee: All charitable organizations have some administrative expenses like printing, mailing, rent, utilities, and more. Organizations that promise 100% of your donation is going directly to those in need might require some extra caution. 
  • Donation by wire transfer or gift card: Legitimate charities will not ask for donations via money order or wire transfer. They may ask for donations of gift cards for items like groceries, but gift card donations should be dropped off in-person at the organization and you should request documentation of your contribution. Do not share the information from a gift card over the phone or in an email. 

“The holiday season is a time many Pennsylvanians will generously support charities and nonprofit organizations through financial contributions,” Secretary of Banking and Securities Richard Vague said in a press release Monday.  

“Unfortunately, there are also many bad actors seeking to prey on this generosity by masquerading as charities while redirecting funds for personal enrichment,” Vague added. 

In addition to keeping an eye out for red flags, the following tips can help donors avoid falling prey to a charity scam:  

  • Don’t feel pressured to donate on the spot. Do some research before sharing money or information. 
  • Check websites closely – scammers can create fake websites to capture personal and financial information. 
  • Avoid wire transfer or money order donations and approach these kinds of donation requests with extreme caution.  
  • Direct payments to the charity, not to an individual. 

When researching charities to donate to, the following resources are available, as noted in the press release:  

  • The Department of State’s online charities database: information on organizations’ expenses for program services, fundraising, and management 
  • The Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations website: tells whether an organization has been subject to corrective action 
  • The Internal Revenue Service website: check whether an organization is registered as a Tax Exempt Organization 
  • Groups such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch offer information and ratings for charitable organizations 

For more advice on charitable giving and avoiding charity scams, see the Department of State’s website