How to donate money without becoming a victim of a charity scam

charity scamsCharity scams are on the rise, and we’re all at risk of falling for them. For example, when the government’s recent immigration policy separated more than 2,000 children from their parents, thousands of caring people wanted to donate money to help.

This, however, became an ideal opportunity for scammers to rip off kind-natured citizens.

The same was true when people donated money after disasters like Sandy Hook, Hurricane Katrina, and the Santa Rosa fires. When people feel passionate about wanting to help, those with ill-intentions see an opportunity they can exploit. It’s incredibly sad, and yet it’s happening more than ever.

Scammers set up fake organizations and charities, and in today’s day and age, they’re incredibly skillful at making them look legit. Here’s what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of charity scams:

Do your research to avoid common charity scams

Always research any charity you are considering donating to. There are some websites that can help you, including:

  • Givewell.org
  • Charitynavigator.org
  • Guidestar.org

If in doubt, look for charities that spend less than 20 percent of their funds on overheads.

Donate to larger organizations you’ve heard of

You also might want to consider donating to a larger organization. They tend to have better experience and knowledge about giving funds, and they generally won’t be overwhelmed when they get more donations than usual.

If you want to donate to a new charity, keep in mind that they might not be rated on a website. You’ll have to rely on your personal research to determine where your money is going. All of these charities, big or small, should have information posted online. If they don’t, do not donate to them.

You might also want to consider donating to a fundraising campaign. Some companies, like GoFundMe, update donators on how their money is spent.

Ask where the funds are going

If you can’t find information about where the funds are going on an organization’s website, you can contact the company directly to find out what the money is used for. If the person you talk to gives you a vague answer, or if you feel like they might be hiding something, this is a definite red flag.

Only pay by credit card or check

If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. This is precisely how a scammer wants you to pay. It’s generally safer to pay by credit card or check, and review your statements to ensure that only the agreed-upon figure was charged—and that you haven’t been signed up for recurring donations.

Charity scams use similar tricks

Be cautious if someone calls you out of the blue asking for a donation. Take their details, do your research, and call the number on their official website once you’re certain the organization is legit.

Also, don’t be rushed into making a donation. Scammers will put pressure on you to donate, and they’ll be reluctant to let you off the phone to do your own research. If a caller is being pushy, this is a major red flag.

Scammers may also change their caller ID to make it look like it’s from a local area code. The name of the organization may also sound remarkably like a real charity, or perhaps the scammer on the phone will pretend they’re actually from a legit organization you’ve heard. It’s always better to donate directly through a website you trust rather than handing over payment on the phone.

Skip social media donations

Finally, though it is incredibly convenient to donate on Facebook and Twitter, most experts advise that you don’t. The same goes for making donations via email and text. Scammers can easily set up text alerts and phishing emails. Stick to the safest option and donate directly through the organization’s website.

Falling victim to charity scams is a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’re merely trying to do your part and help people in need. The moral to this story? Don’t be rushed, research research research, and pick an organization you trust. And be sure to download Hotspot Shield for free on both your mobile and desktop devices to ensure your online activities are encrypted and protected against hackers. 

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