Americans generally feel generous during the holidays and usually are eager to donate to worthy charitable causes. At the same time, they’re so busy and rushed with holiday activities they don’t necessarily vet charities that ask for support. Fraud perpetrators masquerading as nonprofits usually find easy pickings.

Charity scammers use every available channel to defraud charitable donors — door-to-door appeals, telemarketing campaigns, email messages, slick looking websites and even through social media “friends.” To ensure your donations reach the genuinely needy, exercise healthy skepticism and take precautions.

Know your nonprofit

The best and easiest way to avoid becoming a charity scam victim is to donate only to charities you already know and trust. However, by doing this, it’s possible you could exclude new or lesser-known charities from consideration. So if you want to donate to an unknown group, ask the organization to provide as much information as possible — including its tax ID number. Then verify the charity’s status with the IRS and its activities and financials on watchdog sites such as charitynavigator.com and charitywatch.com.

Also make sure you understand how the charity intends to use your donation. This is just as true for established nonprofits. If it isn’t clear where your donation will go or if the charity’s representative seems to dodge the question, walk away.

Best practices

Here are some other tips to help you avoid becoming a charity fraud victim:

Don’t answer suspicious calls. Caller ID makes it easy to ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Unfortunately, perpetrators may mask their phone numbers with the names and numbers of legitimate charities. The simple solution: Tell the caller you don’t donate money over the phone and hang up.

Ignore suspicious emails. Don’t open unfamiliar and unsolicited emails or click on any links they include.

Avoid in-person sales pitches. Place a “No Solicitors” sign at your front door to discourage con artists. If you inadvertently open the door to a stranger, inform the person that you don’t donate to charities unless they send information in the mail. Fake charities usually won’t.

Don’t bend to pressure. No matter how compelling the sales pitch, or how “urgent” the charity’s need, take time to review and research it. Tell solicitors that you’ll get back to them later. Be particularly wary about pitches in the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergencies.

Donate with credit cards. Using credit cards to make charitable donations provides a level of protection because you usually can dispute fraudulent charges. If you discover a discrepancy when reviewing monthly statements, contact the charity and your credit card company immediately. Debit cards generally offer less protection against unauthorized charges. And paper checks are easy to counterfeit.

Heinous crime

Charity fraud is a particularly heinous crime because it hurts both the charitably inclined and those in need of help. If you suspect someone is perpetrating a scheme, stay away from the fraudster and report the person to law enforcement.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Charities typically receive most of their donations during the holidays and at year end. It’s critical for these organizations to be on the lookout for fraud throughout the year, but even more so during the busy season. Here are some fraud schemes nonprofits should watch out for and how they can use internal controls to protect against financial losses.

Culture of trust

Charities generally are staffed by people who believe strongly in their missions, which contributes to a culture of trust. Unfortunately, such trust makes nonprofits vulnerable to certain types of fraud. For example, if managers don’t supervise staffers who accept cash donations, it provides an opportunity for them to skim cash. Skimming is even more likely to occur if a nonprofit doesn’t perform background checks on employees and volunteers who’ll be handling money.

However, skimming isn’t the most common type of fraud scheme in the nonprofit sector. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, religious, charitable and social services organizations are most likely to fall prey to billing schemes. Falsified expense reports and credit card abuse are also common in nonprofits.

Internal controls matter

Even small nonprofits that consider their employees and volunteers “family” need to establish and enforce internal controls. Such procedures must be followed regardless of how busy staffers are processing donations and completing year-end duties.

Possibly the most important control to prevent occupational fraud is segregation of duties. To reduce opportunities for any one person to steal, multiple employees should be involved in processing payables and receivables. For example, every incoming invoice should be reviewed by the staffer who instigated it to confirm the amount and that the goods or services were received. A different employee should be responsible for writing the check.

And don’t forget to protect electronic records that include data on donors, vendors and employees. Staff members should be given access only to the information and programs required for their job. And all sensitive information should be password-protected.

Caution with special events

Many nonprofits depend on money raised from a big annual gala or other special event at year end. During crowded, chaotic fundraisers, you’ll want to discourage supporters from making cash payments. Instead, presell or preregister event participants to limit access to cash on the day of the event. If you decide to accept cash at the door, try to assign cash-related duties to paid employees or board members, rather than unsupervised volunteers.

For more tips on preventing fraud in your nonprofit, contact us. We can help you reinforce internal controls, as well as investigate suspected theft. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA