What Is A Charity Scam?

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I get asked this a lot.  What is a charity scam?  In essence, it’s a scheme to steal your money by taking advantage of your kindness.

If you are contemplating a donation request from a charity, do your due diligence prior to giving.  By discovering as much as possible about the charity, you will be able to dodge these scammers.  Here are some tips to ensure your charitable donations are put to good use.

Spotting A Charity Scam

what is a charity scamNowadays, charities and fundraisers (factions that ask for funds on behalf of establishments) use mobile devices, the internet (including social media sites), email, face-to-face contact and the phone to ask for and obtain donations.  As anticipated, scammers make use of these identical methods to exploit your generosity.  Despite how they contact you, steer clear of any fundraiser or charity that:

  • Declines to give you comprehensive information about its costs, mission, identity and how your donation will be utilized.
  • Will not supply proof that a donation is tax deductible.
  • Employs a name that parallels a well-known respected organization.
  • Expresses gratitude for a pledge you don’t recall ever making.
  • Makes use of high-pressure strategies such as trying to convince you to donate right away, without allowing you time to mull it over and do some research.
  • Requests for your donation to be in cash or to send/wire them money
  • Suggests sending an overnight delivery service or courier to obtain your donation right away
  • Assures you’ll receive sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a donation. According to the law, you never need to make a donation to be eligible to be a sweepstakes winner.

Charity Safeguards

  • what is a charity scamRequest comprehensive information about the charity, including name, telephone number and address.
  • Obtain the precise name of the organization and do a bit of research.  Searching online for the name of the charity – particularly with the word “scam” or “complaint(s)” is one method to determine their reputation.
  • Call up the charity.  Ascertain if the charity is knowledgeable of the solicitation and has indeed authorized it’s name being used.  The charity’s development staff should be capable of handling your request.
  • Determine if the fundraiser or charity is required to be registered in the state where you reside by getting in touch with the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  • Find out if the charity is honorable by getting in touch with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator
  • Inquire if the person calling is a paid fundraiser.  If they are, ask:
  1. The name of the charity they are representing.
  2. What percentage of your contribution will actually go to the charity.
  3. How much money will go to the cause itself for which you are contributing.
  4. How much money will the fundraiser get.
  • what is a charity scamKeep records of your contributions.
  • Create an annual contribution plan so you can choose which causes you wish to support and which trustworthy charities should get your donations.
  • Head over to this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to investigate whether charities qualify to get tax deductible donations.
  • Understand the difference between “tax deductible” and “tax exempt.”  Tax deductible is when you can deduct your donation on your federal income tax return.  Tax exempt is when the organization is not required to pay taxes.
  • Never send cash contributions.  For tax and security purposes, it is better to pay with a check made payable to the organization or via credit card.
  • Never wire money to somebody claiming to represent a charity.  Crooks frequently ask for contributions to be wired because when you wire money it’s just the same as sending cash.  Once it’s sent, you’ll never get it back.
  • Never give out your bank account number, check or credit card number or any personal information whatsoever till you have carefully investigated the charity.
  • Be suspicious of charities that suddenly spring up in response to natural disasters or current events.  Even if they are genuine, they likely do not have the framework to get the contributions to the people or affected area.
  • what is a charity scamIf a request for a donation comes from an organization claiming to aid your local community such as firefighters or police, ask the local departments if they have heard of the organization and are indeed receiving financial support.
  • Texting?  If you text your contribution, the charge will appear on you cell phone bill.  If you have requested that your cell phone provider block premium texts, those that cost extra, then you can’t contribute this way.

Do Not Call Registry And Charities

The National Do Not Call Registry provides a way to decrease telemarketing calls, but charities and political groups are exempt.  However, if a fundraiser calls for a charity, you can request not to receive any more phone calls from or on the behalf of that particular charity.  If those calls persist, the fundraiser might be fined.


Check out this very informative video:



The Bottom Line

So, I hope I’ve been able to answer your question, what is a charity scam?  If you believe you are a victim of a charity scam or if a fundraiser breached the rules for Do Not Call, you can register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  By filing a complaint, you are helping to discover patterns of misconduct that may prompt investigations and prosecutions.

Have you or someone you know been scammed by a charity?  Please share your story by leaving your comments below.


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  1. Amy

    I never in a million years thought that charities would take advantage of kind people! I am glad to see you have outlined what to look out for. I often make donations to charities of my choice and this gives me some ways to be more vigilant. I will never wire money to a charity again! Thanks for some well-needed advice!

    • Barb

      Hi, Amy!  Thanks for dropping by and sharing. I love hearing from my readers.

      Sadly, scammers will try everything they can to get your money, but don’t let these crooks stop you from donating to your favorite charity.  You just have to do your homework and make sure the organizations you donate to are authentic.

      Definitely, NEVER wire money.  Remember, once the money has been sent, it’s gone.  There’s no way of getting it back.  Also, there’s no rush.   If the charity is legit, they’ll still be there tomorrow.


  2. John

    Thanks for this article on what is a charity scam.
    It’s such a shame that there are unscrupulous people out there preying on people’s kindness.
    Spotting one of these scams really boils down to using some due-diligence and asking a lot of questions.
    You have given a comprehensive checklist that will help stop people from falling into these scammers traps!
    Thankfully, I haven’t fallen for any of these scams, but I have heard about a lot of older people in particular that have, so it is great to have information like this to help.
    Great article 🙂

    • Barb

      Hi, John!  Thanks for dropping by and sharing.  I love hearing from my readers.

      Sadly, yes, not only do these scammers prey upon our generosity, but they after the most vulnerable such as the elderly.  Scammers will do anything to make a buck.

      I’m glad my checklist helps and you were never scammed by these crooks.  Good for you for doing your due diligence.


  3. Crystal Doc

    Hey there,

    Thanks for the great advice on charity scams. Calling FTC definitely the way to go. What do you think about the h2o helping hands ‘MLM’ company that is going around.

    I had a very heated discussion with someone on Facebook who was trying to sign me up and was telling me it is for a good cause. Would love to hear your opinion on this.


    • Barb

      Hi, Crystal!  Thanks for dropping by and sharing.  I love hearing from my readers.

      I believe you are getting confused between two very different things.   H2O Helphing hands is a charity whose purpose is to make better lives for those “differently abled” children specifically those affected with autism, the elderly and the underprivileged.  H20 At Home is a multi-level marketing opportunity that sells eco-friendly home care and cleaning products. (Look for my review on them coming up soon.)

      Never sign up for anything until you have taken the time to do your research.  I am highly suspicious of this person you had the discussion with on Facebook and would disregard anything they say.  If you are interested in the charity, you can check them out at the places I mentioned above.  If you are interested in the MLM, I’ve just written an article titled “What Is An MLM?” that will help you out.

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