What is a Fake Charity
Fake charities use deceptive techniques to solicit money from well intended citizens who believe they are donating their money to legitimate causes. The scam begins when a person or group of people misrepresent themselves as belonging to a legitimate charitable organization and request prospective benefactors to contribute towards a non-existent charity.
Besides for fictitious charities, charity fraud can also include questionable dealings within businesses and organizations. These include businesses and organizations that accept donations and not using the money for its intended purposes.
Fake charities are a growing problem worldwide and are responsible for the theft of millions of dollars on an annual basis.
Exploiting well meaning philanthropic intentions is a particularly egregious act as these criminals pose as altruistic people and have no problem stealing from the most vulnerable individuals in need of assistance. There are many examples of wide scale fraud concerning fake charities that have made headlines in local and international news.
One such example are Hurricane Katrina scams. Following the devastation that hit the American Gulf Coast in 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that approximately 4,000 websites popped up and intercepted thousands of good citizens, redirecting their donations into fake accounts. As many as 60% of these websites were hosted on foreign servers which should be the first sign of a scam.
How to distinguish between scams and real charities
Although fake charity scams are a growing worldwide problem, there are still real individuals and charities that do incredible work for their communities. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish between scam charities and genuine philanthropic organizations. The following will give some insight on how to distinguish between the two.
Organization’s History and Content
If a particular charitable group or organization is only a few months old, it’s worth doing some more background checks. If there is minimal information on the organizations, it’s business structure and the work that they do, it could also indicate some sort of foul play. In addition, posts on social media pages that have been shared thousands of times is a good indication that you could be dealing with a scam company. Genuine charitable organizations take a lot of time to develop and should include a lot of information on the organization and the work they do.
Playing on Emotions
Scammers use various techniques to play on peoples’ emotions. By using shocking photos and videos, heart-rending text and language designed to make the reader feel guilty, scammers use every trick in the book to get readers to act spontaneously to perform a good gesture without identifying the accuracy of the story.
Well intended, professional organizations do not resort to these kinds of techniques as long term charities prefer to establish relationships based on mutual understanding and trust between themselves and their donors. The language that is used is therefore told in short, to-the-point language without the need for strong emotional pleas and this is accompanied with detailed information on how the charitable drive is proceeding and where donors’ money is allocated and spent.
Contrary to short-term fake charity schemes who aim to raise as much money as possible before their operations are closed down, the long term goals and views of establishing trust creates relationships that project far into the future and become beneficial for both donors and the organization.
Indeed, the urgent request from a desperate person can include an emotional plea. It will however not include mournful words designed to make the reader feel guilty. Instead, it would include a detailed description of the problem and the course of action necessary to correct it. Remember to always pay attention to the bigger picture and not just the style of the request.
Disorganized or Missing Supporting Documentation
More often than not, fake charities and scam organizations lack the critical documentation required to support their claims and requests for monetary assistance. If these documents are provided however, they should be properly scrutinized and compared with the request.
As an example, if an organization is collecting money for the treatment of children with heart conditions in Africa and the medical reports confirm that these children require assistance for malnutrition, it should be an immediate sign that more investigation is required or that something is wrong with the organization or their documentation. Of course, the children could be suffering from both, however, incorrect documents that do not correlate should raise a red flag.
Clarifying Questions and Responses
Unless it is an established and trusted organization,, donors and concerned individuals will generally ask a number of questions before donating funds to a specific cause. These queries can include anything from further information and updates on the situation, names of third party individuals involved and other important details. When it comes to social media groups and online forums, these messages will quickly be deleted before other prospective donors become aware and start asking questions.
Websites of foundations
It is not uncommon for scam social media charity groups to share a link to a website to further develop a level of trust to their readers. If you do find yourself landing on a webpage that was suggested from a social media group, it is highly recommended to ensure all due diligence is done to confirm its legitimacy before making any donations.
It is recommended to check the last time the website was updated and confirm whether it contains an income and expense report, which is required to be published. If a website collects money from contributors and does not report on where the funds are being allocated, it should be viewed with extreme scepticism.
Precautions to Consider
The following precautions will help prospective donors ensure that their contributions are going to the right organizations and benefiting the people that desperately need these donations.
- Insist on detailed information about the charity including names, addresses and contact information.
- Do your research. Take some time to perform a search of the company name by adding additional words into your search such as “complaints” or “scam” which is a great way to get an idea of its history and reputation.
- Contact the charity directly on the phone to verify that there is someone present and on the ground at the stated physical address.
- Confirm whether the charity or organization requires registration in your area and cross-reference this information online.
- Don’t send cash donations. For better security and for tax purposes, it is recommended to pay via check made out to the charity or by credit card.
- Double check the legitimacy of the charity by contacting organizations that provide information on charities such as guidestar.org, charity navigator.org or give.org. You can also visit popular websites such as the Better Business Bureau and Trust Pilot to confirm registrations and check out client reviews.
Giving to those in need is both a wonderful and honorable act of kindness. Like all things in life, however, those who give and those who receive benefit in so many more ways if the actions are thoroughly thought out and not based on impulse.
To make sure that your charity donations are really put into the hands of those who are in need, and not into the hands of scammers who try to take advantage of a situation, it is recommended to spend some time verifying all requests for fundraising and charitable donations that are presented to you.