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FBI warns scammers are using the pandemic to steal charitable donations

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Posted at 11:29 AM, Dec 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-13 11:34:28-05

BALTIMORE — The FBI is warning consumers about scammers soliciting donations for individuals and groups affected by the pandemic.

"All of the fraudsters are just kind of adapting their normal playbook to incorporate something that might be a little more believable because of COVID-19," said Supervisory Special Agent Keith Custer with FBI Baltimore.

Custer added that people are going along with these scams because our sense of normal has changed.

"When you’re being asked to do something unusual like buy a bunch of gift cards to pay for something, sometimes people let their guard down and think oh well, that seems reasonable when in fact it really isn’t," said Custer.

When donating to a charity, pay with a credit card and give to organizations you know.

Check that the charity is registered in your state, and use websites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator to research organizations and lookup how much is spent on programs and services versus overhead and fundraising.

And don’t feel pressured into giving over the phone. The caller could be an impostor.

"We’ve seen people incorporating political action committees or PACs," said Custer. "They were soliciting donations on behalf of the volunteer fire department in Montgomery County. It so happened the perpetrator was using a robodialer to dial almost everybody in the county. They happened to get a hold of some people who were part of the volunteer fire company and never had been aware of this."

As an added incentive to give, this year the IRS is offering a special tax deduction. Taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in cash donations when they file their taxes next year, but it’s only for qualifying tax-exempt organizations. The IRS has a simple tool where you can check.