6 Ways to Identify Charity Scams

Did you know that Americans donate a collective $373 billion to charity every year?

Generosity makes the world go round. Whether it’s helping out an established organization like the Red Cross or donating to a smaller charity through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, charity is wonderful.

Except when it’s not. Because, sad as it may be, there are hundreds of crooks who hide behind the security of a charitable organization to rob victims of their money. These scammers impersonate well-known charities or create a bogus one, then solicit funds and pocket the cash.

Most recently, scammers have used the Make-A-Wish Foundation name as cover for luring victims into losing huge sums of money. This incredible organization is dedicated to granting the most longed-forwish of each terminally ill child. They can make anything happen, from a Disney trip to a baseball that’s autographed and personally delivered by Kris Bryant.

Sadly, scammers are now abusing the Make-A-Wish Foundation name and our desire to do good to con people out of their money.

Here’s how it works.

The scammer calls the victim and announces that they’ve won hundreds of thousands of dollars in an alleged sweepstakes conducted by Make-A-Wish. The caller claims to be a government representative of the FTC or another federal institution. The “government official” then explains that the “winner” must pay thousands of dollars for taxes and insurance before they can lay hands on their winnings. To make the call seem authentic, it often bears a 202 area code – that of Washington, D.C., which is the headquarters for the FTC and most federal agencies.

Of course, there is no sweepstakes and the caller is no government official.

In fact, on the Make-A-Wish website, the organization clearly asserts that it does not conduct sweepstakes, ever. If you fall for the scam and wire your money over or share your personal financial information, you’ll never hear from the caller or your money again.

There are several red flags here that should alert you to the fraudulence of this call.

First, the FTC has more important things to do than hand out sweepstakes prizes. Second, you should never have to pay money to claim a prize. And third, no legitimate organization will ask for such large amounts of money to be paid over the phone.

If you’ve been contacted, do your due diligence to stop those crooks from preying on other victims. Report the scam immediately at FTC.gov. Next, let Make-A-Wish know. You can notify them through their website, at FraudAlerts@wish.org. Do your part to prevent these scams from succeeding.

Unfortunately, this latest scam is not the first to use a charity for cover, and it certainly won’t be the last.

If you love giving to charity and helping those who are less fortunate, you may be feeling doubtful now. Going forward, how can you possibly know when a charity that’s soliciting funds is a genuine appeal and when it’s a scam?

As always, UCCU is here to keep you and your money safe. Here’s how to verify that you’re donating to legitimate charities:

1.) Don’t donate over the phone

In general, it’s best not to donate over the phone. It’s difficult to determine authenticity, and up to 95 cents of every donated dollar can go to the telemarketer who just interupted your dinner.

2.) Be wary of sob stories

Tear-jerker tales may get us to part with our money, but a legitimate group will not rely on sob stories to solicit funds. When an organization is preying on your heart strings to the point of discomfort, you may be falling for a scam.

3.) Donate with caution after catastrophe

Natural disasters bring out the kindness and generosity in people. They also bring out the crooks. Well before Hurricane Katrina even struck land, the FBI uncovered 4,000 websites with the storm’s name in their titles, most of which were run by criminals who lived overseas.

When disaster strikes, though, you do want to help – and you still can. Just make sure your money is going to larger organizations and names you recognize. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Donate through the charity’s website or by calling them yourself. This way, you’ll know you’ve reached the right party.

4.) Know the charity 

When choosing a charity, do some research. Find out what the charity stands for and about the programs and fund-raising campaigns they run. This way, when someone calls impersonating this organization while collecting for a cause you know they don’t support, you’ll recognize the scam. If all the victims of the Make-A-Wish scam knew that the foundation does not conduct sweepstakes, the scam would never get off the ground.

5.) Read the reviews

Aside from checking out the charity’s official website, you’ll want to read some third-party reviews. You can check for a charity’s legitimacy on objective review sites like CharityNavigator and CharityWatch.

6.) Ask for info

You’ll sometimes be asked for donations over the phone, and the caller will sound genuine and sincere. You’ll be tempted to give money, but first, verify that the solicitor is indeed representing a charity. Ask for details. What is the organization’s mission? How will this money be used? Will you receive a receipt for tax purposes? If the caller isn’t forthcoming or confident with their answers, hang up!

7.) Give safely

As always, never wire money to an unverified recipient. It’s like paying with cash – there’s no way to get it back. Similarly, only provide sensitive information if you’re absolutely certain the caller is genuine. As mentioned, if you’re in doubt, contact the organization on your own to donate funds.

Donating to charity is a beautiful thing. Don’t let a bunch of fraudsters ruin it for you or the beneficiaries of your compassion. Learn how to recognize charity scams so you can continue giving with a full heart. In the end, go with your gut. If something feels off, it’s better to save that money for another charity later on.

Your Turn: Have you ever been duped by a fake charity? Or come close to it? Share your experience in the comments so we can learn from it.

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