Sharing your blessings through charity is a truly wonderful way to give back. Unfortunately, though, scammers are out in full force to hijack the kindness of charity-givers everywhere to get at their money and their information. Here’s what you need to know about charity scams and how to protect yourself. `
How the scams play out
In a charity scam, a scammer or scam ring will target victims via phone call, by advertising on popular social media platforms and websites or by sending out mass emails with embedded links. The scammer pretends to represent a well-known charity, such as Make-A-Wish, or a popular cause, such as emergency relief funds for victims of a recent natural disaster. They’ll ask the target to make a donation toward their organization, and sometimes to share personally identifiable information as well. Sadly, though, instead of these funds going to help a charity, they only go to line the scammer’s pockets.
Look out for these red flags, which can alert you to the fact that you may be, or have been, targeted by a charity scam:
- You’re asked to share personal information, like your Social Security number, when making a donation.
- You’re pressured into making a donation now.
- You’re thanked for a donation you’ve allegedly made in the past, which you know you’ve never made.
- When asked how your donation will be used, you’re given vague, evasive responses that don’t really answer your question.
- You’re guaranteed to win a sweepstakes if you make a donation.
- The “charity’s” website is full of typos and grammatical errors.
- An organization with a name that closely resembles a well-known charity solicits a donation from you.
- The alleged charity will only accept donations via prepaid debit card or gift card.
- When you ask that the charity not call you again, they disregard your request.
Give with caution
Don’t let talk of scams hold you back from giving. Instead, learn these basic rules for giving safely:
- Give to established charities you know and trust. Be wary of “charities” having names that are very similar to well-known organizations.
- When donating to a new charity, verify its authenticity on a charity-vetting site, like Charity Navigator, GuideStar or CharityWatch. You can also Google the charity along with the word “scam” to see if there’s anything suspect about this organization.
- Never click on embedded links or open email attachments from an unverified contact.
- Contact the charity you wish to donate to on your own instead of clicking on an ad or link.
- Check the URL of the charity’s website for accurate spelling, and note that most legitimate charities have a URL ending in .org; not .com.
- When planning to make a donation by phone, visit the charity’s website to make sure you have the correct number.
- Don’t share personally identifiable information via email, phone or in any other way with an unverified contact.
- Be super-wary of social media posts soliciting donations. If using text-to-donate, verify the number with the charity before making your donation.
- When donating to a charity, it’s best to use a credit card for optimal purchase protection.
If you’ve been targeted
If you believe you’ve been targeted by a charity scam, there are steps you can take to help various law enforcement agencies catch the scammers. First, report the scam to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov. Next, you can alert the FTC at FTC.gov. Finally, if the scam involves financial aid for a recent natural disaster, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud.
Charity scams vilify a beautiful deed, but you don’t have to let them ruin it for you. Use the advice offered in this guide to help recognize a charity scam and give safely.