Taxpayers should be alert to scams involving disasters, worthwhile causes
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers against scam groups masquerading as charitable organizations, luring people to make donations to groups or causes that don’t actually qualify for a tax deduction.
These ‘fake’ charities attempt to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors, using a charitable reason and a tax deduction as bait for taxpayers. Fake charities are one of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2018 filing season.
Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime, but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to prepare their taxes.
Perpetrators of illegal scams can face significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. To help protect taxpayers, IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
The IRS offers these basic tips to taxpayers making charitable donations:
- Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, that allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Number (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy through the IRS Select Check.
- Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal identities and money from victims. Donors often use credit cards to make donations. Be cautious when disclosing credit card numbers to those seeking a donation. Confirm that those soliciting a donation are calling from a legitimate charity.
- Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
- Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on IRS.gov. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it provides complete details on what records to keep to help taxpayers at tax time.
Impersonation of charitable organizations
Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud involves scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to donate to recognized charities established to help disaster victims. Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers.
Scam artists can use a variety of tactics following a disaster. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
Remember, fraudsters may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims.
Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities with the Select Check search tool on IRS.gov.