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Be sure your generosity doesn't feed someone else's greed.

'Tis the season for giving. As the holiday months approach, many Iowans choose to show their gratitude for another year by donating to help others.

Giving Tuesday, designated as the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is a popular time for many to make charitable contributions to local and national organizations, charities, and causes. In fact, the Giving Tuesday organization reported that 35 million adults contributed $2.7 billion during the movement in 2021.

"Making donations and charitable contributions is a tradition for many Iowans during the holiday season," Attorney General Tom Miller said. "Yet, scammers are often waiting to take advantage of this generosity. We encourage consumers to continue giving, but to do their research first."

The Federal Trade Commission's 2021 Consumer Sentinel Network data book found complaints related to charitable solicitations - described as misleading pitches for donations to benefit a charity; or solicitations for a bogus charity or relief organization - are on the rise.

In 2021, the FTC received 9,270 complaints for charitable solicitations, an increase from the 4,843 received in 2020.

Whether you plan to support your favorite charity or make contributions after receiving an email or phone call, be sure that your generosity isn't met with someone else's greed.

Know where you're giving

When determining what kind of charity or cause you'd like to contribute to this season, spend some time researching the organization.

Find their website: Type the name of the organization into a search browser to find their website. Does their website provide details about the programs you want to support or how it uses donations? If you can't find detailed information about a charity's mission or programs, be suspicious.

Find complaints: Search the organization's name along with words or phrases like, "complaint," "scam," or "review" to see what others have said about the charity. If you find bad reviews, be wary.

Find their status: Check that the organization you've chosen is registered. Many states require charitable organizations to register their business each year. You can search charities on sites including, Charity Navigator and the Wise Giving Alliance.

Charitable solicitations

While you may have known for months where you plan to contribute this holiday season, be prepared to see a wave of donation solicitations on Giving Tuesday. If you're feeling generous, we encourage you to give; however, follow the FTC's suggestions on tips to identify possible charitable solicitation scams:

  • Don't let anyone rush you into making a donation. Scammers rush you so there's no time to research their claims or think it through.

  • Don't trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. Calls can look like they come from your local area code, or from a specific organization, even if they don't. In reality, the caller could be anywhere in the world.

  • If the fundraiser says you already pledged, stop and check. They may lie and say - in a phone call or a mailer - that you already pledged to make the donation, or that you donated to them last year. They think that means you'll be more willing to donate.

  • Listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down, and then research it. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like other charities to trick you. Do some research before you give.

  • Watch out for sentimental claims with few details. Be suspicious if you hear a lot of vague, sentimental claims. For example, the charity may say it helps many families that can't afford cancer treatment and veterans wounded at war who can't work, but don't get specifics about how your donation will be used.

  • Don't donate with a wire transfer or gift card. Anyone asking you to donate this way is a scammer.

  • Sweepstakes winning in exchange for a donation? Nope. If someone guarantees you'll win a prize or contest if you contribute, that's a scam. You won't win anything, and your donation money will go to a scammer.

Donating online

If you're looking to give on a smaller scale, you might find appeals on social media or crowdfunding sites intriguing. While many of these requests are legitimate, there are some bad actors out there.

The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you actually know who contact you about a specific project. Don't assume that solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate - even when they are shared or liked by your friends. Call or contact your friends offline and ask them about the post they shared.

How to file a complaint:

If you believe you've been scammed or you suspect a charity is acting fraudulently, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Iowa Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).

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