AARP Eye Center
Americans contributed nearly $485 billion to charity in 2021, according to the Giving USA Foundation’s annual report on U.S. philanthropy. That generosity supports many amazing organizations that put those billions to work for health care, education, environmental protection, the arts and numerous 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 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, for example.)
Some operate fully outside the law; others are in fact registered nonprofits but devote little of the money they raise to the programs they promote. Federal and state authorities who shut down a massive fundraising network in March 2021 said the affiliated companies pocketed as much as 90 cents on the donated dollar as they bombarded consumers with illegal robocalls and deceptive appeals to support homeless veterans, cancer patients and children with autism.
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.
- Pressure to give right now. A legitimate charity will welcome your donation whenever you choose to make it.
- A thank-you for a donation you don’t recall making. Making you think you’ve already given to the cause is a common tactic unscrupulous fundraisers use.
- A request for payment by cash, gift card or wire transfer. These are scammers’ favored payment methods because the money is easy to access and difficult to trace.
How to protect yourself from this scam
- Check how watchdogs like Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance rate an organization before you make a donation, and contact your state’s charity regulator to verify that the organization is registered to raise money there.
- Do your own research online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends searching for a charity’s name or a cause you want to support (like “animal welfare” or “homeless kids”) with terms such as “highly rated charity,” “complaints” and “scam.”
- Pay attention to the charity’s name and web address. Scammers often mimic the names of familiar, trusted organizations to deceive donors.
- Keep a record of your donations and regularly review your credit card account to make sure you weren’t charged more than you agreed to give or unknowingly signed up for a recurring donation.
- Don’t give personal and financial information like your Social Security number, date of birth or bank account number to anyone soliciting a donation. Scammers use that data to steal money and identities.
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited email, texts or fundraising messages on social media platforms; they can unleash malware.