Are You Donating Your Data to Charity?

You made a quick donation after an email from a friend. Now you’re inundated with dozens of messages and even more postal mail. You don’t need to worry about data breaches or fraud when you’re just trying to be nice, right? Wrong.

A simple click on your smartphone and you can give money to almost any charitable cause today. Mobile payments are the trend – quick click and done. It’s easy for you, easy for the charity.

But your personal data can be captured by many parties in the process. And, not all are playing nice. They may even think they’re entitled to use your data!

Sure, you must watch for scammers who constantly troll to snag your data. But also be aware of fake charities, charitable organizations that may sell their mailing lists or third-party consultants who “re-purpose” donor data, if even for a legit cause.

How can you stay charitable and still stay safe in our world of mobile pay apps, crowdfunding pleas, donation kiosks and auto-deduct accounts? These four tips recommended by FICO – the company that handles your credit data – may help avoid donor fraud:

  1. Know who is getting your personal info and payment data. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really easy to be a victim. Fake or phishing websites, bogus but worthy-sounding causes, and new charities with no track record abound. If you donate and create an online account or profile, your data could be compromised or sold. You can verify a charity by checking:
  2. Track yourself. You can – and should – monitor your accounts online and check bank statements to make sure your donation was executed accurately. Do not rely on a charity’s thank-you reply. Sign up for transaction notifications and alerts from your financial institution or credit card issuer. If donating online, uncheck the box to “receive more information” or click “unsubscribe” if you don’t want emails. (Incidentally, a donor should get a written letter from the charity acknowledging tax-deductible contributions, required by the IRS.)
  3. Donate via your employer. If your employer offers a matching-gift benefit, you may be able to avoid linking too much personal info by contributing this way. (Hopefully the charity has been verified, or it wouldn’t make your employer’s list.)
  4. Use a third party to make your donation. Instead of paying directly, see if the charity accepts payments via a payor such as PayPal. Or use a donor-advised account, set up through Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab or another trusted financial investment firm.

Remember to vet the charities yourself. Even well-meaning friends or co-workers forward phony charity solicitations without knowing.

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