Scammers are on the lookout, searching for ways to take advantage of your generosity and your wish to help struggling Ukrainians under attack by Russia.
”Scammers are scammers,” said Craig R. Johnson, tax partner at Holman Frenia Allison in Lakewood. ”When a big catastrophe or a pandemic of any sort strikes, they focus on the elderly the most and those who normally do donate.”
They follow the headlines, said Rachel Auerbach, a spokesperson with AARP New Jersey.
“Scammers try to put us in a heightened emotional state when our decision-making can be compromised, which they refer to as ‘under the ether.'” she said. “The public desire to support Ukraine in this critical time of need is no exception.”
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How to keep from getting scammed?
The New Jersey Society of CPAs is warning residents to be careful and do some research before you donate.
Of course, there are the basics, steps you should always take to protect yourself. Never donate money over the telephone, don’t click on links in emails and don’t respond to high-pressure tactics to get you to pay right away. (Just hang up the telephone.)
Instead, remember there’s no rush. A legitimate charity will accept your money whenever you want to give it. The organization of New Jersey accountants says you should:
- Do your research. Make sure the organization you want to donate to is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can search on the IRS website and also search the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs website to make sure a charity is legitimate.
- Get more information. Research a charity further on Guidestar, which includes recent Form 990 filings, such as information about how the charity spends its money. You can find other details too, its mission statement and goals, and how long it has been around, Johnson said. Charity Navigator evaluates and rates charities. The organization also has a web page dedicated to high-performing charities engaged in Ukraine relief, Auerbach said.
- Don’t assume anything. Your friend posted a link on social media, so it must be OK, right? Your friend might not know if the charity is legit or how it spends money. Check out the charity anyway and don’t click on links in social media groups or chats. Search a reputable site for the charity’s website and type it in manually.
- Don’t pay with cash or a debit card. A credit card can provide more security.
- Check your accounts. After you donate, look for any suspicious activity or unauthorized charges. Set up notifications on your banking app or through your bank that will track credit card transactions and alert you to account activity.
Johnson said you also can choose to donate to a local charity. “Best case scenario is sometimes staying local,” Johnson said. “If you want to give your money to a local organization, you can talk to somebody locally … and they can advise you on where that money’s going a lot of times.”
David P. Willis, an award-winning business writer, has covered business and consumer news at the Asbury Park Press for more than 20 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.