Charity Fraud & How to Avoid Getting Scammed

Charity Fraud & How to Avoid Getting Scammed
  • Opening Intro -

    You’re likely familiar with your local Boy Scout troop, animal shelter and garden club, but they’re not the only organizations who might be interested in receiving a financial contribution from you.

    On any given day you’ll receive solicitations in the mail, over the phone and at your front door, people who will plead their cause to you in hopes that you’ll open your wallet and hand them some cash or write out a generous check.


Not every charity is worthy of your donation nor is every so-called charity legitimate. Unfortunately, scammers prey upon people, tugging on their heart strings to manipulate a donation.

Kids with cancers. Abused cats and dogs. Japanese earthquake victims. The list of needs go on. Already, you may feel overwhelmed and want to give to everyone whether that be a few coins slipped into a can at the grocer’s counter or that $20 check you write in response to a knock at your door.

How can you tell if someone and their cause is legitimate? At first glance, it may not be possible to do so, but with a little research and by asking the right questions, you can uncover what is really being proposed.

Get Information — Whether you’re talking with someone over the phone or seeing someone face to face, you should ask for the charity’s name, address and phone number along with written information about its programs advises the Federal Trade Commission. If someone is at your door, have them wait outside while you make a call or take their information and follow through later. Don’t contribute anything under pressure and certainly not to someone you suspect is not being honest with you.

Dig deeper — Sometimes, the fundraiser is someone who gets a cut of the action. Although this isn’t always a show stopper, if only half the money you give goes to help the organization, then the person raising that money will pocket the rest. Ask the fundraiser how much money he is getting to solicit. People lie: his answer may not be accurate. Consider donating directly to the fireman’s fund or police benevolence association.

Previous giving — One tactic used by fundraisers is for them to assert that you have given to the organization previously. Unless you know that you have, assume that you have not. Scammers figure you’ll be more likely to make a follow up donation if you think you have donated in the past. And, they’re probably right about that too.

Prizes, awards — If you’re offered the opportunity to enter a sweepstakes or are told that you are eligible to receive a prize in exchange for your donation, be wary. The sweepstakes may be bogus and the prize, if real, only reduces the value of your donation by the amount it cost the organization to buy the award. Raffles are treated differently as usually the prize is donated by a business and the funds go to the charity.

Explore further — Consumers often wonder how they can verify a charity’s legitimacy independently. There are several methods for doing this including visiting the IRS to search for tax exempt organizations, by contacting your state’s office of the attorney general to see if there have been complaint about the charity or by visiting Charity Navigator or GuideStar to search for information about the organization.

If you decide to make a donation, consider writing out a check and only make your check out to the charity’s name, not a person. If it turns out the organization is not on the up and up, you can stop payment on your check and notify your state’s attorney general office and your local police.


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Categories: Consumer Tips

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".