Charity Scams

Scammers often create fake charities to collect money or personal information from unsuspecting victims. Learn how to protect yourself.

Step 1:Recognize

Red Flags of a Charity Scam

If you are contacted by someone asking for donations, there are some red flags to watch out for that may indicate that you are being scammed, such as:

  • They refuse to give you information about the charity, or are unable to answer basic questions about the charity’s work.
  • The scammer is vague about how the donations will be used.
  • They thank you for a donation that you do not remember making.
  • They are pushy or aggressive in their solicitation, and will not take no for an answer.
  • You are asked to make a donation by gift card or wire transfer. Legitimate charities will usually give you the option to pay by credit card or check.
  • You are asked to provide personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account number. A legitimate charity will not ask for this type of information.
  • They insist on getting your personal information right away, before you have had a chance to research the charity.
  • You receive multiple calls, emails or text messages asking for donations.

Step 2:Immediate Actions

If you think you are the victim of a charity scam, it is important to take action right away to protect yourself and your finances. Here are some steps to take if you think you have been scammed:

  • If you provided financial information, like your credit card number or bank account information, contact your bank or credit card company right away. They may be able to help you cancel the transaction or get your money back.
  • If you sent funds via gift card or money transfer, report the scam to the issuer. They might be able to help you stop the transaction. Find their contact information by visiting their legitimate website.
  • If you provided personal information, like your Social Security number, you may be at risk for identity theft. Keep an eye on your credit report and financial accounts for any unusual activity, and consider placing a freeze on your credit.
  • If the scammer is impersonating an actual charity, contact the charity directly and inform them of the impersonation. Look up the charity’s contact information on their website or on a reliable directory such as GuideStar.
  • Save all information and messages provided to you by the scammer. You may need to provide this information to law enforcement if you file a report.
  • To file a complaint about a nonprofit to the IRS, email [email protected] or complete the Tax-Exempt Organization Complaint Form (Form 13909).

Step 3:Report

Reporting any type of cybercrime, including charity scams, is imperative to help others avoid being scammed. As a society, the more people that report online scams and fraud, the more national reporting data that is collected, and the better chance law enforcement has to catch the criminals and decrease cybercrime.

Step 4:Recover

Learn the Three Golden Rules to Spot a Scam

Scammers often utilize tactics to encourage you to act quickly and will use false information to persuade you to send money or personally identifiable information (PII). When faced with a questionable situation online, always follow the three golden rules to spot a scam:

Slow it down — Charity scammers often create a sense of urgency. They may be pushy or aggressive in their request for donations. Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.

Spot check — Do your research to double check that the charity is legitimate. Often scammers will set up fake websites or social media pages that look like they belong to a legitimate charity. Before donating, do your research. Look up the charity on a reliable directory such as GuideStar.

Stop! Don’t send — Scammers will try to steal your money by rushing you into paying with unconventional payment methods like gift cards or wire transfers. If they insist you send the donation in the form of gift cards or by wire transfer, it’s a scam.

Take 5 Steps for Better Online Security

Along with making sure you follow the three golden rules to spot a scam, it’s important to strengthen your online security to help avoid all types of online scams. Take action to improve your digital posture by following these steps:

  1. Implement Multi Factor Authentication (MFA): Passwords are generally easy for scammers to crack, and even if you use strong passphrases, there’s still the possibility that a cybercriminal can obtain your passphrase in a data breach. Implementing MFA is a great way to maximize your security and ensure that you are the only one who can gain access to your accounts. MFA should be implemented on all accounts where it is available. Check your account’s security settings to see if it is something you can set up.
  2. Update Your Privacy Settings: Privacy settings allow you to control your personal information (name, address, phone number, date of birth, financial details, photos or videos, etc) and how that information is used. Review your privacy settings on all of your accounts including your social media accounts. Consider restricting who can see your friends list, contacts, photos and posts.
  3. Activate Automatic Updates: Automatic updates are a set of changes to an app, software or operating system that are automatically pushed by the developer to fix or improve it. Oftentimes, cybercriminals take advantage of security flaws to plant malicious software on your devices. By activating automatic updates, you will automatically patch security vulnerabilities to protect your data.
  4. Create Strong Passphrases: A strong passphrase is a string of unrelated words separated by hyphen, space, period, capitalized first letter or number. Use passphrases that are longer than 15 characters and include multiple words that do not have any obvious connection between them. The key to passphrases is randomness. Don’t repeat your passphrases between accounts and consider using a password manager to help you remember.
  5. Learn the Elements of a Phishing Attempt: Familiarize yourself with the elements of a phishing email. Phishing emails tend to include a sense of urgency and multiple grammar and spelling errors. If they are asking you to reveal personal information, be suspicious. If you get a strange email, try contacting the company another way to confirm they sent that email. If the email is suspicious, mark it as spam.

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Without Fightcybercrime.org, I don't know if I would have been able to react as quickly to protect my personal information.
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