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Identity Theft When Giving to Charities

It has often been said that no good deed goes unpunished, and certainly giving to charities is an example of where your good intentions can result in identity theft. Of course, there is always the risk that you are giving to a phony charity. A good place to check out whether a charity is legitimate is the Web site www.charitynavigator.org, which not only will tell you whether a charity is phony, but also will inform you as to how much of the charity’s funds go toward its charitable purpose and how much toward administrative costs and salaries.

However, there is another place where even if you give to a legitimate charity, you could be at risk. Most charities are required to file a federal tax Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax). This form provides much information about the particular charity. A five-year study by the group Identity Finder in 2012 found that almost 20% of all nonprofits required to file Form 990s included the Social Security numbers of charitable donors, scholarship recipients, tax preparers, employees, and trustees on these forms, which are totally available to anyone in the public. The worst part of this is that the law does not even require the inclusion of Social Security numbers on Form 990s. In response to this study, the IRS issued a warning to charities not to include Social Security numbers on Form 990s.

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