Don’t Donate to the Guy Living in his Mom’s Basement

By: Eddie Greenblat, Fall 2018 IAC Student Intern

Who hasn’t cried at that Sarah McLachlan commercial? You know, the one with all of those cute kittens and puppies that need homes? I’m not a pet person, but every time that commercial comes on my television I’m ready to become that guy with 10 dogs. But then I come to senses, remember I’m allergic to pets, and I’ll occasionally donate to ASPCA.

When people see tragedies, the instinct is to help those in need. Hurricane Lane recently ravaged Hawaii. Not only did Hurricane Lane cause massive water damage, it also resulted in a huge brush fire in Maui County. The Maui County mayor called the fire “one of the worst fires we’ve ever had.” Natural disasters spark huge relief efforts to help the victims. For example, NFL player J.J. Watt started the Houston Flood Relief Fund after Hurricane Harvey. Watt raised a total of $37 million dollars to help the citizens of Houston rebuild. Charities like Watt’s are legitimate, and donating to them is great, but people often don’t know where they send their money.

The IRS issued a warning after Hurricane Harvey warning people about fake charity scams. The IRS warned that criminals contact people via phone, social media, email, and even in-person to solicit donations. The most popular scam, according to the IRS, is to send an email that then directs people to “bogus websites that appear to be affiliated with legitimate charitable causes.” The FTC issued a similar warning in response to Hurricane Lane.

The IRS and FTC made some helpful suggestions to consider before sending a charity your hard-earned money. The FTC suggested starting with their website. The website has links to multiple organizations that will confirm the charity you’re considering is an actual charity, and not some guy crowdsourcing his Taco Bell addiction. You can find a link to that resource here. In addition, the IRS suggested:

  • Making sure you know the name of the charity because phony organizations mimic the names of legitimate charities;
  • Not giving out personal information like your social security number or bank information; and
  • Never giving out cash. Not only can you not track it, but it may be difficult, if not impossible, to claim the donation as a tax deduction.

Giving to people in need is great and I hope you do it. Just make sure you know your money is going to help people in need.