When tragedy strikes, many rally together to help those in need. It's a natural reaction. You hear about natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina or Sandy, or about horrific terrorist attacks like the events in Orlando and San Bernardino, and your heart goes out to the victims. You want to help them in any way that you can. And if you're not a local resident, sometimes the only assistance you can offer is a charitable donation.
Sadly, there are also people out there who view these tragedies as a chance to take advantage of others, which means that charitable donation you thought was helping may not be helping anyone at all. Except, of course, the scammers who convinced you their "charity" was legitimate.
It's been a few days since the news came in about the shooting in an Orlando nightclub, but charity scams have already been popping up in Facebook news feeds, email inboxes and even on people's phones. These scams take advantage of the good-hearted nature of those who are hoping to send some relief to survivors, as well as the families of the deceased victims.
Charity scams aren't new, by any means. They come in many shapes and sizes, and cover everything from animal rescue efforts to natural disasters, domestic abuse, feeding the hungry and even cancer research. Any cause that tugs at the heartstrings of compassionate people is a cause that can be exploited by scammers.
Luckily, there are things you can do to ensure your donation will actually help those in need. Here are some simple steps to follow so that you're not tricked by scammers who want to take advantage of you.
1. Verify the organization exists
Before you break out your check book or provide your credit card number, do a quick Google search to make sure the charity you're donating to actually exists. Legitimate charities must be registered at the state or federal level. Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints that have been issued against them. There's also a terrific website that will help you check out charities. Click here to learn more about Charity Navigator.
2. Ask questions
When donating to any organization, you have the right to inquire as to how the funds are going to be spent. This helps you to make an informed decision about where your funds will make the most impact. But it also can help you weed out scammers.
Keep in mind, good scammers may have answers prepared that sound pretty convincing. So here are some questions that can help you find the red flags.
- What is your full name?
- How long have you worked for the organization?
- How long has the organization been operating?
- What is the address of your charity?
- How will the funds be allocated?
3. Call them back
If you've received a phone call from someone claiming to work for a legitimate charity organization, ask to call them back. Since these scams pop up quickly after a particular event, in most cases, scammers are unable to set up convincing "store fronts" that make them appear to be legitimate. If they agree to let you call them back, the number they provide you can be quite telling.
Does the number seem to be a business phone number? Does the operator have a direct extension? Is there an automated answering service and call directory when you dial in?
These are all things that can help you identify whether or not you're speaking to a representative from a respectable charity.