This time of year, many folks take time to give back to those who may be less fortunate. Some volunteer for a food pantry or mentor at an elementary school. Others donate to charities that target the causes they really care about. Nobody chooses to get scammed. But tricksters have figured out how to impersonate real charities to swindle money from caring people. In recent years, scammers have been caught impersonating charities online, calling people pretending to work for reputable charities, and even knocking on people’s doors in a big effort to con people out of money.
Rather than not donating at all, here are steps you can take to avoid scammers while continuing to give to important causes this holiday season.
- Research your preferred cause with specific search terms such as “homeless charities” or “child poverty charities” to find the organization that addresses the cause you care about. When you find your charity, search for its name followed by “review,” “complaint,” or even “scam” to find potentially fraudulent activities the charity may have been involved in.
- Organizations such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch can give you a list of reputable charities along with those with a shady history.
- Be careful of fake charities using names similar to well-known and legitimate charities in an attempt to fool donors. Some have even reported scammers using fake websites and caller ids that are identical to legitimate charities to fool people.
- Watch out for sham solicitations by phone or in person from people supposedly representing real charities. If you receive a phone call or a solicitor at your doorstep, ask for information about the charity including the name, address and telephone number of the organization. If the solicitor is making you feel rushed, under pressure, or even guilty, chances are they are scammer. A real charity would never make you feel bad about taking your time to donate and will always be happy to receive your donation when it’s most convenient for you.
- Only give donations through secure payment methods. Checks and credit cards are considered safe payment methods. Scammers ask for payment through cash, gift cards or wire transfers.
- If you donate, keep a record of it and be sure to review your bank statement to confirm only the amount that was agreed upon was charged to your account.
- Trust your instincts. If someone is asking for personal information such as your social security number or bank information, do not provide it. This information is not required to donate to a cause.
If you suspect you were scammed out of a donation:
- Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a consumer complaint with the California Attorney General.
Don’t be discouraged from giving to a legitimate charity because of potential scammers. Thoughtful and caring charities still exist and they are always looking for ways to keep their doors open and help those in need. By following the tips above, you can be more certain that your next donation will go towards a good cause, helping those most in need during this holiday season.
On behalf of our entire team at the District Attorney’s Office, which is dedicated to building safe and healthy communities, we wish you a joyful and safe holiday season.