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Tips for Charitable Giving Online

In the online world of charitable giving, not everyone is raising money for a good cause!

[Updated in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan and the ongoing situation in the Philippines.]

Have you noticed that we seem to be facing many more major weather-related emergencies than we used to? From wind-fueled wildfires in the western states to floods in southern Mexico to super typhoons in the Philippines, these often life-changing events are leaving their mark on communities all over the world.

Along with calls for local and international assistance, these incidents are often accompanied by a surge in requests for donations, as support groups mobilize to offer immediate aid to the affected areas. Many of these requests are in the form of e-mails, texts or social media updates which we receive on our smartphones or tablets, making it easy for us to respond immediately.

However, it’s an unfortunate fact of modern life that not all organizations asking for such donations are legitimate. Many of the requests for contributions are scams, aided by an electronic world that sometimes makes it hard to distinguish the good guys from the bad. If you are interested in giving but want to make sure your money is going to a reputable organization, then here are a few suggestions on how to protect yourself:

Do not respond to e-mail or text solicitations

Unless you have previously opted in to receive e-mails, online newsletters or texts, then most legitimate charitable organizations will not solicit funds in this manner. Avoid opening e-mail attachments or clicking on any embedded links, as these could contain viruses or other harmful malware. If you are interested in following up on what looks like a legitimate communication, then open a browser and visit the official web site, making sure that you reach the online destination that you are seeking.

Do your homework

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be both a blessing and a curse for legitimate fundraisers. Social media is a great way to get the message out about worthy causes, but that same ability to quickly spread the word can also aid the scammers.

Never give out credit card or other personal information in response to an appeal over a social network. Again, make sure you do your homework before you respond or donate to organizations that have contacted you through social media. Younger users are particularly vulnerable to hard-luck Facebook appeals and “chain mail” updates, so make sure your kids are aware of the potential dangers as well.

Give to an established charity

It can be tempting to give to small boutique charities that are formed for specific causes, but unless you know the people behind the charity or can exercise direct control over what happens to your funds, it’s often best to stick with more recognizable organizations.

Check that your chosen charity is registered and has 501 (c) (3) status under the IRS tax code. Make sure they have a proven track record of success in dealing with the type of emergency that you are responding to. Above all, make sure that a good percentage of the funds that you are donating will go directly to those in need.

Charitable giving in the digital age can be convenient and rewarding. With a little extra care and attention, you can also make sure that your funds reach their intended destination.

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