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San Joaquin County
District Attorney's Office
Consumer ALERT

August 31, 2021

Protect Yourself from Charity Scams

Hurricane Ida in Louisiana and Mississippi. The California wildfires. Hurricane Henri in Connecticut. The Haiti earthquake. When a tragedy occurs, our usual instinct is to ask, "How can I help"? Unfortunately, scammers see this as an opportunity to hurt people financially by setting up fake organizations to take advantage of the public’s generosity. Especially during tragedies and disasters.

You want your donations to count, so it’s important to do some research before giving to a charity. Here are some things you can do to learn more about a charity and avoid donating to a scam.

Check Your Charity's Rating

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance publishes information to help you in your charity donation decisions. You can either view and download electronic copies or click here to request hardcopies of the magazines.

While it’s the donors’ decision, BBB WGA recommends you avoid or be extremely cautious when contributing to nondisclosure charities. Charities that do not provide BBB WGA with any of the requested information needed to complete their charity evaluations are called “nondisclosure charities.” While this could be benign, some of these charities could also be hiding something by choosing not to disclose. Also, be diligent in verifying the name of the charity. Fake charities often choose names that are very close to well established charities.

To produce their reports, BBB WGA asks charities to complete a detailed online questionnaire and provide copies of supporting documents. The majority of charities provide this requested information to BBB WGA.

Watch Out for Telephone Appeals

Scammer Calling
Never give your credit card number or other personal financial information to unknown callers
.

Ask who’s calling--a professional solicitor or an employee of the charity? If the call is from a telemarketing company, ask what percentage of your gift the charity will receive.

Get the name straight. Many organizations raising money for the same cause have names similar enough to confuse donors, sometimes intentionally. Listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down, and then research it. 

Ask for specifics about the charity, if it’s unfamiliar. The caller should be able to tell you the organization’s purpose, whether contributions to it are tax deductible, how a gift will be used and how much of it will go to the charity’s program. Better still, ask for written information, read it carefully and check whether your local BBB has information on the charity.

Opt-out of future calls from the soliciting charity, if you wish. The national Do Not Call Registry does not generally apply to charity calls, but you have the right to ask a telemarketer not to call again on behalf of a particular charity.

Avoiding Fake Charities


If the fundraiser says you already pledged, stop and check
. They may lie and say — in a phone call or a mailer — that you already pledged to make the donation, or that you donated to them last year. They think that means you’ll be more willing to donate.

Watch out for sentimental claims with few details. Be suspicious if you hear a lot of vague sentimental claims, for example, that the charity helps many families that can’t afford cancer treatment and veterans wounded at war who can’t work, but don’t get specifics about how your donation will be used.

Don’t donate with a wire transfer or gift card. Anyone asking you to donate this way is a scammer.

Sweepstakes winning in exchange for a donation? Nope. If someone guarantees you’ll win a prize or contest if you contribute, that’s a scam. You won’t win anything, and your donation money will go to a scammer.

Also Remember


Don’t assume the request is legitimate because a friend posted it.
Pay attention to who posts the request on social media. Contact your friend privately or offline to ask them about the post they shared.

Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. A responsible charity respects your right to make a thoughtful decision.

Don’t trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. Calls can look like they come from your local area code, or from a specific organization, even if they don’t. In reality, the caller could be anywhere in the world.

Don’t assume that you can get a tax deduction for donating to an organization. Use the IRS’s database of 501(c)3 organizations to find out if it has this status.

Don’t send cash. Pay with a check or credit card.

Report Charity Scams


Report scams to:

When you report a charity scam, share any information you have — like the name and phone number of the organization or fundraiser, how the fundraiser contacted you, what the fundraiser said, and copies of any supporting documents.

Be Aware and Share!


Make sure that your gifts to charity count! Give to things you care about, just follow the guidance and be careful when you do. Also, remember to share this information with other giver's in your life. Help them avoid being a victim to scammers too!


The District Attorney's Office would like to thank both the FTC and the Better Business Bureau's Give.org site for supplying such helpful information for this article.