8 Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed by a Phony Charity


How do you distinguish between genuine and phony charities?
Image: Shutterstock

It’s getting to be tax season once more, and that means a chance to look back at charitable donations made throughout 2013. Did you donate to charity in 2013? A popular New Year’s Resolution is to give more to charity—in time or money. First time donors are often cautious because there’s certainly no shortage of phony or inefficient charities out there, especially following national or global disasters.

So, how do you avoid getting scammed and choose the charity that’s right for you?

First, spend time searching for charities that are just right for you. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few nonprofit organizations, delve a little deeper. A charity may seem just perfect at first glance, but before signing on, be sure that there are no red flags. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • How did you hear about the charity? If a donation was solicited via phone, email, social networks, text messages sent to your cell phone, or more, be wary of a scam. Check to see if there’s a website for the organization, and search on Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to ensure that it’s a legitimate nonprofit. If you’re ever unsure, don’t donate over the phone or via text—instead, go to the website and donate there.
  • Don’t give money to any group that can’t answer detailed questions about the group’s identity, mission, costs, etc.
  • Ask for proof that your contribution will be tax deductible.
  • If an individual is pressuring you to give right away—without being willing to let you think on it, walk away. While many groups want to solicit immediate donations, they should be able and willing to send you along with more information that will help with your research.
  • Never donate to a group that specifically asks for cash or wired money.
  • Is a sweepstakes involved? It’s illegal to require a donation to enter to win a sweepstakes, so any group that gives you this come on is likely doing something shady.
  • When researching, search for the organization’s name along with “scam” to see what comes up.
  • If the group supposedly benefitting from the charity is local, give that group a call to ask about it. They should be familiar with any charity groups offering them financial or other support.

If you’re afraid you’re being scammed or think you’ve discovered  phony charity, you can file a complaint with the FTC.


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