How to Avoid Charity Scams

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Njaj

Dear WAHFAQ,

I am SO SICK of getting calls and solicitations from charities this time of year. And it’s not because I don’t want to donate…I do! It’s just tiring because it’s hard to figure out what is real. I’d prefer to donate to some of the smaller charities that don’t have the budget to advertise. Do you have any suggestions?

 

Holidays are ripe with scammers trying to tug on our heartstrings. Be very aware of people standing outside of stores, in parking lots, and yes, even at your front door. Wearing costumes, using props, donning fireman or police uniforms they may even carry bogus authorization or badges. Sometimes they’ll even use kids to sway your common sense! Here are some tips to put a little distance between you and the charity, while still being able to support causes you believe in:

If they’re at your front door:

It’s pretty easy to look up their charity online in real time, while they’re standing there asking for your donation. Keep in mind that ANYONE can register a .org domain. Many people think that if a website ends in .org, it’s registered to a non-profit organization. That’s simply not true. ANYONE can register a .org domain. ANYONE. (Did I make myself clear?) When you look up their website on whois.com, see who it is registered to, and how long the registration has been valid. If it’s a new site, just tread carefully. Take any pamphlets that they want to give you, and do further research. Also, keep in mind that they may be casing your house to see if they want to rob it later, so make sure you stay on your front porch and do not let them inside.

If they’re calling you:

At this point, I’m sure we all check the caller ID before answering the phone. If it’s from an unrecognized number, you are under no obligation to pick up. If they’re sending you texts or you just don’t want to hear from them, you can block their number. If you do end up speaking to them, just feel free to take their information and do further research to see if their organization is one you want to support.

If they’re on the street-corner:

Usually during the holidays it’s the Salvation Army who is out on the corners ringing their bells for donations. Of course, you’re under no obligation to donate if you don’t want to, but it’s very rare for a business to allow random people to stand outside and solicit donations.

If you see them on the Internet:

Anyone can create a quick website to solicit donations. Just use your common sense and don’t get pulled in by stories or pictures. You can do a reverse image search (images.google.com) and see if they’re using images from other charities or impoverished nations and claiming them as their own, and look up their domain on whois.com to see who it is registered to, and how long they have had the site. Most charities at this point have a social media presence to get the word out about their work. Check out Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to see if there is consistency across all of their sites.

If you’re tired of getting mail from charities:

If you donate by mail with a check, you’ll automatically be put on the charity’s mailing list. If you donate online using your credit card, you’ll be put on their mailing list because you have to enter an address tied to the credit card for verification. For me personally, it’s really frustrating to get all that extra mail asking for more money, when I already donated. Sometimes I feel like I’m only paying them to send me more mail! A few years ago, I realized that I could use a pre-paid Visa card and use the charity’s mailing address as the address for the card. (Pre-paid Visa’s don’t have addresses tied to them.) That way, any mail they send to me would get returned pretty quickly, and (in theory) they would have the common sense to remove me from that list. I would still get to support charities that I believe in, and they would be able to keep more of the money I donated since they wouldn’t be wasting it by sending me more mail!

 

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