Column: Protect yourself and give wisely this holiday season

The holiday season is about celebrating with family and friends and looking forward to a new year full of possibilities. It is also a wonderful time to give back. 

Many families choose to give back during the holidays by donating to charity.

Earlier this week was #GivingTuesday, which marked the unofficial kickoff to the holiday charitable giving season. Unfortunately, it also marked the beginning of scam artists trying to take advantage of residents’ generosity to steal their money or identity.

Cyberthieves often try to misrepresent themselves as charities, especially during the holidays. They send out malicious emails designed to convince you to give them your financial information or click on links that download dangerous malware on your computer.

I encourage all southwest Michigan families to be mindful of scams and fake charities and to take steps to protect their personal information — such as keeping browser and security software up-to-date, using only legitimate and secure websites and being wary of clicking on unfamiliar links on social media.

A few simple rules to follow to avoid most scams are to never give out your credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers and to never open email from unknown senders.

Beware of charities that refuse to answer questions about the organization or where your money will go; charities with names that closely resemble better-known charities; and charities that use high-pressure tactics to get you to make a quick decision or feel guilty about not contributing.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and various nonprofit groups have put together a Giving Wisely brochure to help donors make wise charitable gifts. The free handout provides advice to anyone considering a donation as a way to help ensure donations reach worthwhile organizations.

For those looking for a charity to support, the AG’s Charitable Trust site at mi.gov/agcharities allows visitors to search for charities. Residents can also check on charities by using Charity Navigator, GuideStar or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

I encourage residents to consider giving back and helping make southwest Michigan a stronger community this holiday season. With precautions, it is a decision you will never regret.

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