Many Albertans make annual donations to causes near and dear to their hearts as the festive season approaches. This year, “Giving Tuesday” falls on November 30. But as we celebrate with good cheer and sharing with others, don’t forget that it’s also the most wonderful time of the year for scam artists. It’s critical to make sure your online donations are secure. AMA security technologist Michael Plambeck shares some expert advice so you can be confident your generous contributions end up in the right hands.
1. Make sure you’re on the organization’s actual website. If you’re Googling to find the websites of causes you’re interested in supporting, be aware that the top search results in Google are often ads. “Those ads are targeted based on what you’re searching,” Plambeck says. “Scroll below the ads to the sites listed in search results.”
2. Look for charitable registration numbers. In Canada, all charities have a charitable registration number. Look for it on their website, and cross-reference it on canada.ca. “You can easily find every charity there, so there’s less concern about fraud when it comes to charities,” Plambeck says. But keep in mind: Non-profit organizations and charities are not one and the same, and there are reputable non-profit organizations that may not have a charitable registration number.
3. Be purposeful with your donations. Rather than replying to an email or phone call, decide which causes you’d like to support—and be intentional with your giving. Most fraudsters are reliant on misrepresenting who they are and what they do. “Don’t click on something else that leads you to a website. Going directly to the charity or non-profit website is the most effective method for donating safely.”
4. Check that the website is secure. “Besides the address on a web browser, look for the little lock icon. Clicking on it will tell you which site you’re connected to,” Plambeck advises, adding that it’s difficult for fraudsters to get around this. You can also look for “HTTPS” preceding the URL, which indicates you’re on a secure site.
5. Keep a paper record. Plambeck recommends keeping a hard copy of your donation. “At the very least, it’ll help you remember your donation amounts come tax time. And in the worst-case scenario, you’ll be able to provide fraud investigators as much information as possible,” he says.
Above all, listen to your gut if you doubt the trustworthiness of an organization. “Scammers want you to skip over the details. If things don’t feel right—maybe you noticed poor grammar or a strange-looking address in an email—do a little extra homework to validate who you’re supporting.”
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