Spotting the Bogus Charities this Season
Charity scams are possibly as old as the concept of giving itself. When some individuals desire to help a friend or stranger in need, others view it as an opportunity to grab their share—whether needed or not.
In 2019, charitable giving hit $449.64 billion in the United States. Then the pandemic swept the globe, and legitimate charitable groups wondered whether to brace for a significant drop off in gifts. Instead, giving totals delivered one of the few bright spots in 2020.
The last month of each year accounts for one-third of all donations made in the U.S. over 12 months. That’s more than five times the funds raised in any other month. December and the holiday season open our hearts and minds to give, and scammers know it. Arm yourself with the tools to spot fakes before you head out to shop, and your funds will end up where you intended—into the hands of those with genuine need.
How Do Scammers Do it?
Natural disasters and holidays both bring out the crooks. They swarm because a lot of money changes hands during both events. For example, it’s common to see swarms of bogus contractors and fundraisers hit a designated area after a hurricane. However, the charity scams that increase during the holidays may be harder to spot with the naked eye.
It’s all about imitation. Imposter websites launch that utilize stolen logos and color schemes for big banks and other honest businesses to trick visitors into clicking. Check all web addresses closely or navigate to the websites yourself instead of following a link you receive. During the pandemic, scammers created an estimated 100,000 bogus websites to profit from that disaster. Some want your cash; others will settle for your login credentials then rob you later.
Often the mimicry starts with a familiar-sounding name. For example, the scammer’s operating name could be very similar to that of a well-respected group.
Several red flags lead to detecting the bad guys. They include a very pushy telemarketer on the phone, a claim that you must act quickly, or a website with no phone number or address. All these are warning signs that a website may never deliver your donation to the needy.
Haste is the scammer’s best friend. They don’t want you to think things over or verify their claims. So, the flurry of activity each December makes this month a prime time to target innocent victims. But, before you hustle through the crowds, load up on some tactics to spot fake fundraisers fast.
Door-to-door solicitations are so 1980s. Today, donors can view the world of giving and scamming all over social media. Crowdsourcing efforts raise a lot of cash quickly. Pleas also appear on neighborhood social media like nextdoor.com.
When someone launches a GoFundMe campaign, the organizer receives the funds, not the individual in the spotlight.
Does deception occur? Possibly. Last spring, a Las Vegas woman asked donors to help her pay rent. Her fundraising page stated she and her three daughters would be evicted otherwise.
The campaign raised over $200,000 in a couple of days. Then the girls’ real mother stepped forward. The woman seeking funds then admitted the girls were her partner’s children, not her biological kin.
Stories of refugees from Afghanistan populate the headlines so this giving season, expect many efforts to support recent Afghan immigrants. Many will be genuine. A few will be scammers trying to piggyback on the news and play on your sympathy.
Some fundraisers have not moved to online solicitations. Instead, they invade your Inbox and your home.
Robocalls continue to bombard households with pleas for support. Telemarketers focus on veterans, children and first responders. Smooth talkers on the other end of the call are highly persuasive.
Phishing emails increase just as much as red kettles and bell ringers in front of local stores. The subject line is often your first clue to a scam. It promises unbelievable discounts on popular products. Please don’t believe it.
Do your research first to determine the causes you’d like to support. Then you’ll be able to evaluate requests to donate rapidly.
Here are two great ways to investigate unfamiliar fund seekers:
- If you check into an online operation, take a screenshot of any key photos. Then run a reverse image search. Websites like images.google.com will seek that photo across the internet so you can spot what’s legit and what’s not. This tactic proves especially valuable with social media and online fundraising efforts where scammers will steal images to use in their scams.
- Request the charity’s Employer Identification Number (EIN). The IRS requires it. No EIN, no donation.
You should see red if any solicitor asks you to donate using gift cards, wire transfers or checks made out to themselves versus their group.
If you pay by credit card, check your statements after the holidays. Make sure those donations haven’t morphed into monthly charges or triggered other unauthorized charges.
The one exception to the gift card rule is the paperboy, lawn service worker, or trash collector you want to gift. Giving cards here is better than passing out checks, which contain a lot of personal banking information.
Your best defense, however, is a heavy dose of skepticism and personal research. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Project is one place to start.
IDShield wishes you a holiday season overflowing with magic and wonder, not fear. Just use common sense when you give or shop. And check our blog for the latest on scam trends and detection. You’ll see why our members sleep well at night knowing we have eyes on all their personal data 24/7.
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