Beware of Charity Fraud
Your generous decision to make a donation to a worthy cause is much needed and very welcome. You must remain vigilant however when donating, as fraudsters are forever willing to take advantage of the generosity of a good persons heart. Scammers are not just after your money but your personal information as well. Before hurricane Katrina made land fall there were already fake aid websites set up by criminals and, in the weeks after the disaster, the FBI reported over 4000 phony websites that were attempting to take advantage of the goodwill of others. By doing a little research you can avoid identity theft and make sure that your donation is going to a worthy cause and not to line the pockets of the unscrupulous. Here are a few tips to aid you to give wisely.
Legitimate organizations will generally never solicit through e-mails
Unless you have signed up for receiving electronic communication from a charity, be extremely skeptical of e-mail solicitations. If you receive an e-mail requesting donations, do not respond. It is best to never respond to spam and never open attachments as they probably contain viruses or a link to a counterfeit website (a tactic known as phishing).
Beware of fake websites
Many scams will use fake websites that look similar to the official site and will have links to a foreign account where they ask you to send contributions. A good way to determine if the website is bogus is to check the address; most non-profit organizations web addresses end in .org not .com. If you wish to make a donation to a specific organization it is best if you initialize contact to make sure you have the right organization. Never give your personal information like credit card numbers to anybody before doing some research into whether they are a legitimate enterprise. Organizations like Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau, or www.guidestar.org can help you locate a legitimate charity.
Avoid donating to a charity if they display the following characteristics.
- If they refuse to provide detailed information on their identity or how the money will be used
- If they don’t provide any proof that the donation will be tax deductible
- If they use a name or brand that is similar to a reputable organization
- If they ask for a cash donation or a wire transfer.
- If they guarantee your winning a sweepstake for your contribution. By law, you will never have to give a donation in order to be eligible to win a sweepstake.
The internet is not the only place fake charities operate
Although they like the anonymity of the internet, scammers representing fake charities can approach you on the street, come to your doorstep, or phone you at home or on your mobile. Also, always do your homework when it comes to celebrities endorsing charities as they are often only loosely affiliated with the organization, or they start charities in order to avoid taxes, or to employ friends and family.
Don’t let the charlatans stop you from giving. In 2010 individual Americans donated $211.77 billion to charity. Imagine they didn’t? Just make an educated decision about who you give to.