In the final weeks of every year, many of us are filled with the desire to donate to our favorite charities, or to find a new worthy cause.
Whether it's the joy of giving or the tax deduction, one survey found charities receive 41 percent of their donations in the final few weeks of ever year. That statistic makes the time period a popular time with online scammers.
"You can read stories about individuals in need, or organizations that may be soliciting for various projects," said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of BBB Wise Giving Alliance. "Don't assume that the organizations or individuals on those sites have necessarily been vetted to any great degree. They may have verified that the organization has tax-exempt status, and that may be it."
One expert says some groups actually buy up URLs that are similar to the names of legitimate charities hoping you stumble upon them during a Google search. If you're not careful, you could make a donation on the wrong site. Some of those groups may actually do some good work, but they might not use your money as efficiently as you like.
In extreme cases, you might run into scam artists who are just looking to steal your money. Luckily, most people don't fall for the outright rip-off. A security expert estimates probably under 6 percent of Americans fall for that kind of scam.
Experts suggest you do your research before writing the check or giving someone your credit card number. Organizations like the Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator provide online information about charities, including whether they meet certain standards and how efficiently they spend their money.
It's also a good idea to avoid snap decisions about donations, even when the solicitor on the phone is telling a heartbreaking story. If the story moves you, do your own research and you can always give the same donation at a later date, safely.