Charitable giving is a significant part of many people’s lives and budgets and individuals are often eager to give back and lend a helping hand to those in need. Unfortunately, not every organization seeking a donation is exactly what it claims to be. If you’re not careful, you could wind up losing your well-intentioned money to a scam.
Don’t let the threat of scammers keep you from supporting the causes you care about. By staying educated and informed about charity cons, you will be prepared to spot a scam and avoid falling victim to fraud.
Recognizing common scam periods
While scams and other ploys can arise at any time, they often increase while emotions are running high — like near the holidays or following a natural disaster — when people let their guard down and are eager to support those in need.
Such scams may request donations from you over the phone, through the mail, via email or even on social media. They might include charity names that are very similar to legitimate charities, or even mention recent genuine emergency relief efforts. Their goal is to look as authentic as possible in hopes of tricking you. Some of them are very convincing, but you can protect yourself with these fraud awareness tips from Western Union.
Take your time
Be wary of any sense of urgency to donate. Scammers will try to work quickly, urging you to donate before you find any holes in their story. “If you get a phone call where someone is wanting a donation, don’t act right away. Do your research and donate to a recognized charity,” advised Western Union Senior Manager of Anti-Fraud Operations John Skoglund. Remember, authentic charities won’t push you for an immediate response, and will be happy to accept a donation at any time.
Don’t Respond to Emails or Phone Calls
Scammers may try to steal your donations by creating fake charities or impersonating an organization you’ve donated to in the past. There are many ways to do this; they might scour your social media accounts to find causes you’re sympathetic to or create a fake organization with a name that’s similar to a legitimate charity.
No matter the scam, they may try to solicit your donations via email or over the phone. Even if you think you know the organization that’s contacting you doesn’t mean it’s not a well-disguised criminal.
Don’t respond to email or phone solicitations, and avoid clicking unverified links or downloading attachments. Instead, go directly to a legitimate charity’s website to find the right donation channels.
Do your research
Want to verify if a charity is legitimate and if your donations will be tax-deductible? You can start with the IRS list of tax-exempt organizations. If a charity has registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), you will find them here.
Don’t be afraid to ask for details about an organization. The charity should happily provide them. You can also find a third-party source for information such as Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. If the group that contacted you isn’t recognized as a charity by any of these organizations, you should exercise extra caution and think twice before donating.
You can do further research to find out how charities will spend your money and how well they support their mission. Websites like CharityWatch and GiveWell provide ratings and information on charities nationwide.
Pay Using Secure Methods
If a charity is demanding specific payment types like cash or demanding unusual forms of payment like gift cards, this is a red flag. Legitimate charities should be able to accept multiple forms of payment.
You should always pay in a manner that makes sense for you – but keep in mind that credit card payments offer more security than debit cards, checks, or cash. That’s because credit cards aren’t tied to your bank account and have specific protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
Avoid Sharing Personal Information
Never share sensitive information like Social Security Numbers or bank account numbers. Even common data like your name, email address, and home address can be used to steal your identity or run further scams, so guard your information carefully. You should only share your personal info with legitimate organizations that take data security seriously.
The friends and family rule
Only use money transfers to send money to friends and family. Never send money to someone you have not met in person, and never share your banking or credit card information. Legitimate charities will never ask for donations to be sent to an individual through a money transfer service.
Be cautious of email links
Some donation requests may come through emails that house fraudulent links taking you to look-a-like websites. These websites have phony donation pages where fraudsters can capture your personal and financial information. Instead of clicking on links in a donation request email, open a new browser window to navigate to the charity’s official website and donate there.
Trust your instincts
Don’t ignore your own concerns regarding a charity’s legitimacy and never assume you’re “just being paranoid.” If you notice any red flags or feel uncertain about the situation, don’t donate. You may just be right after all.
Reach out for help
If you get a fraudulent charity donation request and you’ve sent them money via Western Union, call the company’s fraud hotline at (800) 448-1492 to report it. If the transaction has not been paid out to the receiver, Western Union can stop the transaction and refund your money. To learn more about scams and how to protect yourself, visit the Western Union Consumer Protection Center at www.westernunion.com/fraudawareness.
Watch Your Accounts and Credit Reports
Keep a close eye on your credit cards, bank accounts, and credit reports. If you see unusual activity on your credit card or bank account, you will need to report it to the financial institution immediately. And if inaccurate information lands on your credit report, it could be a sign of identity theft. Identity IQ offers daily credit report monitoring and alerts that keep you informed anytime your credit report changes.