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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Be aware of potential scams and scammers that thrive disguised as legitimate, acceptable charities

Scammers know that one of the easiest ways to trick victims into giving up money is by tugging on their heartstring — and nowhere is that more true than with charity scams.

Fake charities, fundraisers, and nonprofit groups claim to help meaningful causes, but do little real work, misappropriate funds, or even siphon charitable contributions into their own pockets.

According to the latest data from the FBI Americans lost $4.4 million to charity fraud in the last year — not including money lost to fake online fundraisers.

Before you donate, you want to make sure that your money is going to the right cause — not a scammer’s pocket.

Charity scams occur when fraudsters and scam artists create fake or misleading charitable organizations to trick you into giving up money or providing personal information that can be used for identity theft.

These scams can be run by scammers taking advantage of natural disasters and social issues or even a local non-profit' designed to help the needy.

Fraudsters create a fake charity and pretend to support a cause you care about. Scammers often latch on to events in the news — such as natural disasters or political issues — to try and solicit donations. They’ll often use legitimate-sounding names to try and trick you into trusting them, such as Direct Relief International.

Next, they reach out to solicit donations. Charity scammers will reach out via email or text messages, create fake social media pages and GoFundMe campaigns, or even employ telemarketing companies to solicit donations.

During the donation process, you’ll be asked to provide personal information. If you engage and want to donate, you’ll be asked to supply personal information, such as your name, home address, phone number, email, and even more sensitive information including your Social Security number (SSN).

If you push back, the scammers will claim they need the information for tax credits or other reasons.

After you donate, you’ll continue to be harassed by other “opportunities.” Scammers want to squeeze victims for as much as they can. If you donate to one fake charity, expect to be contacted by more in the future.

The Most Common Types of Charity Scams

-Fake charities impersonating well-known charitable organizations. Criminals set up a copy of a well-known or popular charitable organization to siphon away donations from the real charity. In one example, a man in New York set up 76 fake charities using names that were similar to well-known charities such as the American Cancer Society. The kicker? All of his fraudulent charities were approved by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [*].‍

-Fraudulent disaster relief charities. When widespread natural disasters, wars, or humanitarian issues strike, numerous charities emerge to start raising funds. Scammers set up fake nonprofits to take advantage of compassionate people who want to do their part in a time of crisis. ‍

-Scammy GoFundMe accounts and social media fundraisers. Fraudsters post stories and photos on social media and crowdfunding platforms to garner pity and raise money. They may even steal someone else’s photos and true stories and use them for their fake posts.‍

-Holiday-themed charity scams. Many fake charities pop up during the holidays when average people are more likely to donate. Holiday charity scams are especially prevalent on social media.‍

-Veteran, police, and firefighter charity scams. Some scammers say they’re collecting donations to help local public servants or even military veterans.‍

-Dishonest charities that misuse funds. Many charities might be technically legitimate, but purposefully misuse the funds they receive. In other words, a disproportionate amount of contributions go towards inflated expenses and salaries, rather than the charity’s intended recipients.

How To Identify Charity Scams (and Stay Safe)

  1. Check the charity’s credentials on charity watchdog sites

  2. Conduct your own online search about the charity

  3. Scrutinize the charity’s name

  4. Ask about and verify their nonprofit status

  5. Avoid nontraditional payment methods

  6. Research the charity’s mission statement and track record

  7. Beware of links on social media or in unsolicited emails

  8. Look out for high-pressure sales tactics

  9. Don’t give away personal information

  10. Keep records of your donations

When you want to help, do everything you can to ensure that your charitable donation doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

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