How to Avoid a Common Holiday Scam

“I bought some Girl Scout cookies last night,” Suzanne told me the other day. “And,” she added proudly, “I donated a box of cookies to the troops.”

“What troops?” I asked. “Did they tell you which branch of the military they would be sending the cookies to?”

“No…” she trailed off. “Come to think of it, the sign was really vague. Who knows? Maybe they put the cookies I ‘donated’ back on the table once I left!”

Did Suzanne get scammed? I hope not. The holidays are a time of giving – and not just to family and friends. Charitable organizations of all kinds receive a flood of donations at this time of year.

Unfortunately, scam artists take advantage of this situation to pose as charities… and then take the money and run. So before you write that check or pull out your credit card…

  • Don’t pay bills or invoices you receive in the mail from charities you’ve never talked to.
  • Ask for a copy of the charity’s financial report and a list of its activities.
  • Find out how much of your donation will go to programs… and how much will go to “operating costs.”
  • Pay close attention to the name of the charity. Often, scammers will use a name that’s very similar to the name of a reputable one.
  • Never give cash (except to Salvation Army bell ringers). Always make your check payable to the organization – not an individual.
  • Be wary of “emergency” appeals that insist they need the money right away.
  • Never give out your credit card number or bank information over the phone.

For a list of reputable charities and information on their activities, check out these websites:,, and

(Source: Arizona Daily Star and Consumerist)


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