Believe it or not, there are criminals who take advantage of tragic situations by way of charity fraud. They may create a slick website, send something very official-looking in the mail, or even approach you on your doorstep or local shopping center. With the worldwide attention Colorado’s latest tragedy has received, we at the Better Business Bureau want to warn all who want to help to be on guard and avoid charity scams.
Such a disturbing tragedy can prompt charity fraudsters to really use the emotional aspects of their solicitations to their advantage. Be especially cautious of any plea that is long on emotion and short on necessary details – such as where your donation goes and how it will be used.
Individual fundraisers have already been started in the name of victims and survivors. These are managed most likely by family members of victims and survivors, employers, etc. But similar fundraisers may also crop up that appear to be legitimate but may not be. They may be set up by someone completely unrelated to those affected or someone posing as a friend, family member or otherwise related individual. Here’s how to try to steer clear of such scams:
- Verify a fundraiser’s legitimacy before donating (research contact info for where the money must go, see if it has been publicized by news outlets, etc).
- Do not donate money on the spot to someone who comes to your door or solicits in a public place. Check it out first, no matter who they say they are.
- Also, know that fundraisers for individuals are not subject to many of the IRS requirements, laws, rules, or standards that traditional charitable organizations are. This also means that donations are generally not tax deductible. It may also be a real tax headache for recipients to receive direct donations as opposed to receiving donations through tax-exempt charitable organizations.
- Beware of charities that use names or similar sounding names of well-known and trusted organizations. This may be a deliberate attempt to confuse their scam with a legitimate organization or fundraiser. Always verify they are who they say they are.
- Do not give donations over the phone. You cannot easily verify who is on the other end. Either donate to the organization in person, by mail only sending to a verified and trusted address or on the charity’s secure and trusted website.
- Do not ever pay with cash (pay with check or credit card) and be wary of anyone that wants to send a courier or use an overnight delivery service to pick up your donation. Do not ever pay via wire transfer. Requests for wire transfers are always a huge red flag in any scam.
- Refuse high-pressure appeals. If the organization is legitimate, they’ll still need your donation tomorrow or whenever you are ready to give.
- Check out charities with the BBB. Charity reports can be found at www.denver.bbb.org or by calling (303) 758-2100. Note that individual/memorial funds will not have a BBB report as they are not subject to our standards because they are not organizations that can be reviewed.
We’ve all been affected by this tragedy, and the last thing on our mind is charity fraud. We, as a close-knit local community naturally trust that our fellow citizens have good intentions. But one of the important points to remember that this tragedy and those affected are receiving global attention. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if criminals outside of our community, around the globe, see this as an opportunity to set up fake charity websites or create phishing campaigns through emails or social media.
Be very careful online. And to ensure that your donation is getting into the right hands, stick with what you trust and what you’ve verified. No matter how shaky our emotions may be, we must maintain our vigilance and wisdom when it comes to giving money. We will be doing those we want to help and ourselves a big favor by doing so. The website, www.givingfirst.org is a helpful resource that lists several nonprofits that have are actively supporting causes related to the tragedy.
Have you seen any questionable websites or been asked to donate to a fund you’re not sure about? What do you feel is the best way to help?