BBB Tip: Learn to Spot a Charity Scam

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Con artists are experts at playing to our emotions. In honor of International Charity Fraud Awareness Week (October 21-25) and the holiday season quickly approaching, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers these tips on what to watch out for in a charity scam.

How the Scam Works

Scammers can use charitable causes to tug on your heartstrings and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org) urges donors to remain vigilant in researching charities before donating to avoid questionable appeals.  In recent years, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance joined with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), state Attorneys General, and state charity regulators to help the donating public avoid misleading charity appeals. Among other things, bad actors mislead the public about providing assistance to particular individuals (like veterans or cancer patients), use robocalls misrepresenting that the message is an appeal from a charity, or are a for-profit corporation holding itself out as a charity.

Donors also need to be on guard when responding to appeals in the wake of a disaster. For instance, while there are several ways to check out charitable organizations, it is difficult to vet individuals requesting help on crowdfunding sites.

You may stumble across such online content while surfing the web or scrolling through your social media feed. Sometimes though, fraudsters reach out to you directly via email, social media direct messages, or even door-to-door campaigns. To help donors avoid disappointment or potential fraud, the first and most important step is to find out more about the charity before making a gift.

How to Avoid Charity Scams

  • Watch out for charity name confusion. Be alert to questionable groups seeking to confuse donors with names that sound similar to charities you know.
  • Resist pressure to give on the spot. Don’t give in to excessive pressure on the phone to make an immediate donation.
  • Find out more about the charity. The charity’s website provides access to information on its programs, board roster, and finances. You can also verify government registration. About 40 of the 50 states in the U.S. require charities to register with the attorney general’s office or secretary of their state. In Canada, check with the Canada Revenue Agency.
  • Do an online search to reveal potential scams. Search the person or charity in question along with the word “complaint” or “scam.” What you find could reveal a dishonest scheme. BBB Scam Tracker can help you learn from others’ experiences (BBB.org/ScamTracker).
  • Check for BBB charity accreditation. Visit charity reports on org to verify if the organization meets the 20 BBB Standard for Charity Accountability (i.e., a BBB Accredited Charity.) There is no charge to charities for accreditation.

For More Information

BBB is joining charity regulators, associations, and others for the second annual International Charity Fraud Awareness Week (ICFAW) from October 21 to 25. For more resources, visit BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s website (Give.org) for smart giving tips, and check out this video from the Federal Trade Commission about making your donations count.

If you’ve been the victim of a charity scam, please report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. By sharing your experience, you can help others avoid falling victim to similar scams.

To learn more about all types of scams, visit BBB.org/ScamTips and BBB.org/AvoidScams.

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