Scams operating under the guise of a charity.
#12173 by Samantha Fri Jul 31, 2009 4:37 pm
Beware of phony charities -- be sure you are dealing with a legitimate organization.

Charity scams are amongst the most revolting of all internet frauds, preying as they do on the generosity of people and willingness to help those less fortunate than themselves.

After each natural disaster or tragic event such as Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami or 9/11, we have seen scammers asking for charitable donations, usually within the first 24-48 hours. While everyone else is trying to get over the shock and starting to think about how to help, the scammers are exploiting it to make money. It's hard to see how fraud could get more despicable than that.

How fake charity scams usually work

Reputable charities rarely ask for donations via email, and are much more likely to write to you or collect on the street. When there is a tragedy, real charities are even less likely to email, because they get plenty of spontaneous donations from the generous public.

If you get an email asking for money, start from the point of view that it is almost certainly a scam.
If it asks for donations solely through a money transfer service such as Western Union or Moneygram, it's definitely a scam. Legitimate charities can accept donations by any number of methods, and do not depend on anonymous money transfers.

Charities anywhere in the world almost invariably have to be registered with government regulators. In the US, each state has different requirements for registration but you can find out who controls registration and oversight of charities in your state at the National Association of State Charity Officials website here. In England and Wales, charities have to be registered with the Charities Commission, which maintains a searchable database here. For Scotland, you need to start here and for Northern Ireland, the regulator is here.

Check the address of any website you are given in an email soliciting for donations. Don't click on the links themselves. Scammers spoof the links so that they go to a different site than the one it appears to be. For example, the scammer could set up a fake site that looks very much like the real Red Cross website, with a similar spelling such as redcrosss.org or the link could redirect you to somewhere else entirely.

If you want to support a genuine charity named in an email, make sure that you find the right site. Search for the charity's name using an internet search engine, or type the proper name into your browser address window, making sure you have the correct spelling.

More information on charity scams and how to be safe

Australian govt site Scamwatch's advice
Advice from CNN on spotting scams
Scambusters information


Charity regulators in the US and UK

US : National Association of State Charity Officials home page
England & Wales : Charity Commission's search facility
Scottish regulator
The regulator of N Ireland


Charity scam news items

ABC News : Fake Hurricane Katrina charity scam
VNU Net - Virginia Tech shooting charity scam
BBC News : Indonesian Tsunami charity scam

Examples of fake charity scam emails
A fake church asking for charitable donations
Standard non-specific charity scam
Scammer says they have money to give to charity : a standard advance fee fraud
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