Individual Americans contributed a record $319.04 billion to charity in 2022, according to the Giving USA Foundation’s annual report on U.S. philanthropy. This generosity supports many amazing organizations that put those billions to work for health care, education, environmental protection, the arts and many other causes.
Unfortunately, it also opens a door for scammers, who capitalize on donors’ goodwill to line their pockets.
Some charity fraud involves faux fundraising for veterans and disaster relief. Scammers know how readily we open our hearts and wallets to those who served and those rebuilding their lives after hurricanes, earthquakes or wildfires. Charity scammers are especially active during the holidays, the biggest giving season of the year.
Some sham charities succeed by mimicking the real thing. Like genuine nonprofits, they reach you via telemarketing, direct mail, email and door-to-door solicitations. They might make appeals on social media and create well-designed websites with deceptive names. (Cybersecurity firm DomainTools noted a huge jump in website registrations with the words “Ukraine” and “Ukrainian” in the days after Russia’s invasion of that country, for example.)
Many operate fully outside the law; others are in fact registered nonprofits but devote little of the money they raise to the programs they promote. Some create massive fundraising networks, often in the form of political action committees (PACs) — entities that can solicit money on behalf of charities or political candidates/causes — that they use as cover while requesting donations purportedly for various causes. Then they keep the bulk of the cash themselves. Two men who created PACs (including one called Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer), Richard Zeitlin and Robert Piaro, were recently arrested and indicted on charges of colluding in a multiyear scheme in which they allegedly stole millions of dollars from misled donors.
With a little research and a few precautions, you can help ensure your donations go to organizations that are genuinely serving others, not helping themselves.