How to check if a charity is real or a scam

Don't Waste Your Money

Donating to a worthy cause can be a very fulfilling, fruitful experience.

But how do you know your money is going to a real charity and not in the pockets of criminals?

If you’re considering donating to a charity, there are some important steps you need to take so you don’t waste your money.

First, look for the signs of a charity scam.

Charities and fundraisers today often use phone calls, emails, social network posts and text messages on cellphones to solicit donations. But scammers use these same methods to take advantage of your generosity.

Red Flags of a Dishonest Charity

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), do not give your money to any charity that does the following:

  • Refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs and how the donation will be used.
  • Won't provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible.
  • Uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization. Be especially careful of veterans and cancer charities.
  • Thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making.
  • Uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to think about it and do your research.
  • Asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money.
  • Offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • Guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. By law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

Simple Ways to Check a Charity

If all that checks out, there’s still more you can do.

Get the exact name of the organization you want to donate to and Google it online with the words “complaint(s)” or “scam” next to it. This will help you see if the organization has a good reputation.

If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community – like local police or firefighters – call your local police or fire agency and ask if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.

The same advice goes for a charity you’re interested in donating to: Call the organization. Ask them questions and make sure they are aware of the solicitation you encountered so you know it’s legit.  

Websites for Looking up Charities

You can also find out if a charity or fundraiser is real by seeing if it’s registered in your state. You can do that by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials at 720-508-6204.

You can also check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance . The BBB has a searchable database on tens of thousands of charities. You can download complete reports on each charity and see if they meet the BBB’s standards.

If the charity you’re researching isn’t on the list, you can ask the BBB about it by contacting them through their website. They will forward you any information they have on file about the organization. And if they don’t have any data to share, that charity may be added to the BBB’s next evaluation list.

If you think you’ve been the victim of or discovered a charity scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC.

Finally, if you decide you want to donate, never provide a credit card or bank account number by phone unless you initiate the call. Mailing a personal check is a safer method of donation.

If you are texting a charity’s phone number to donate, the charge will show up on your cellphone bill. But if you asked your cellular provider to block premium text messages (texts that cost extra), then you won't be able to donate this way.

And most importantly, keep a record of your donations. That way, you don’t waste your money.

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Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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