How Can You Spot a Charity Scam?

How Can You Spot a Charity Scam?

The holidays are a time when our thoughts turn to giving. Charitable organizations know this, and they ramp up their efforts to solicit donations during the last quarter of the year. Organizations that only pose as charitable organizations also know you are more likely to give at this time of the year.

It’s hard to know whom to trust, but our legal team wants to help you make sure your gifts to charity serve a real purpose.

The Federal Trade Commission says you should avoid any charity or fundraiser that:

  • Refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission and costs and how your donation will be used
  • Won’t provide proof that your contribution is a tax-deductible one
  • Uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization
  • Thanks you for a pledge or donation you don’t remember making
  • Uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately
  • Asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money
  • Offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately
  • Guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution (by law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes).

Many phony charities solicit donations via the telephone. The Virginia Attorney General’s Office says it is estimated that telemarketing fraud, which includes fraudulent sales, robs consumers of more than $40 billion each year.

The Attorney General also reports that seniors are three times as likely to become victims of telemarketing fraud. Fraudulent telemarketers try to take advantage of older adults on the theory that they may be more trusting and polite toward strangers. Older women living alone are particularly targeted.

Another common telemarketing scam is to get names from obituaries and contact someone whose spouse has recently died. In the case of a “charity,” the caller might say the deceased spouse gave to the charity every year and suggest that you continue the gift, perhaps in his or her memory.

One way to avoid telemarketing fraud is to simply say, “I don’t conduct this kind of business over the telephone. Thank you for understanding. Good-bye.”

If you consider giving to a telemarketer, follow the cautionary tips above and the Attorney General’s suggestions that you:

  • Refuse to be pressured to make an immediate decision
  • Don’t give money in exchange for a “free gift”
  • Check out a charity before you give
  • Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity
  • Ask the caller to have written information sent to you so you can make an informed decision
  • Never give your credit card, checking account or Social Security number over the telephone (if you want to give, ask where you can send a check).
  • You can reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive by placing your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

To register online, visit To register by phone, call (888) 382-1222 (TTY: 866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.

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