Saturday, December 20, 2008

T’is the season

Fraud Prevention Tip of the Month December 2008 
from the Canadian Bankers Association

Snow is in the air, the malls are packed and coffee shops are selling peppermint lattes. Yes the holidays are once again upon us and in the spirit of the season, millions of Canadians will open their hearts and their wallets to those in need this December. When it comes to charitable donations, Canadians are very generous. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians reported donating over $8.5 million in personal contributions last year.

Unfortunately, the holidays provide fraudsters with an ideal opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting donors. Criminals know that December is traditionally a time when people donate to charities and they use this opportunity to tug at our hear strings and rake in the cash. 

Warning signs

There are many worthy charities that may contact you at this time of year but, before you open your wallet or pull out your credit card, make sure that the charity is legitimate. PhoneBusters, Canada’s anti-fraud call centre, offers some warning signs that you can look for: 
Name game: Fake charities often use names that are very close to the names of legitimate and respected charities. With the hectic schedules people have around the holidays, many may not take the time to research a charity and can end up handing their money directly over to criminals. 
E-mail requests: Be wary of appeals for donations made by e-mail, especially if it comes from an organization you have not dealt with previously. Most reputable charities will not initiate contact with an e-mail that requests a donation and will only make e-mail appeals after they have built a trusting relationship. 
Unwarranted thanks: A common technique used by fraudsters is to thank a person for a donation they don’t remember making and then ask for follow-up information to “confirm” the donation. But be careful: the information you provide could be used for a number of fraudulent activities. 

Protect yourself 

While there are Grinches out there who will try to take advantage of people’s holiday cheer, PhoneBusters recommends you take the following steps to ensure your charitable donations go to those who need it most: 
Remember never to give out your personal or financial information over the phone or at the door. If you receive a request for information, thoroughly research the organization before providing any and ask why they require it. Also don’t be afraid to refuse if you don’t feel comfortable giving out such information. 
If you receive a telephone call from a charity, remember the person on the line could be misrepresenting a legitimate charity. Ask for information about the charity to be sent to you in writing, including their charitable tax number, which can be confirmed online with Revenue Canada. 
Call the charity. Find out if they know about the appeal and have authorized it and also ask what percentage of the contribution they will receive from the money you donated. Perhaps the charity will suggest a better way to give, where 100 per cent of your donation will reach people in need. 
Ask how much of your gift will be used directly by the charity and how much will go toward administrative costs. Legitimate charities are prepared to answer these questions and have the information readily available. 
If you receive a request for a cheque, always make it payable to the charity and never to an individual person. Also, consider mailing the cheque later as opposed to handing it over to someone who just knocked on your door. 

Another approach PhoneBusters suggests you take to ensure that you are protected from fraudulent charities is to decide at the beginning of each year which charities you will support and send payment directly to their head office. Then when approached by subsequent charities you can say that you have already given to the charities of your choice.

For more fraud tips, visit the Fraud and Security section of the Canadian Bankers Association website or PhoneBusters at

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