3 Tips for Avoiding Charity Scams

Unfortunately, when tragedy strikes, so do opportunistic miscreants seeking to take advantage of others' goodwill. Here are a few tips to avoid falling victim to charity scams.

As a US-CERT alert points out, national disasters and tragedies often create a field day for scammers. Sadly, the recent disaster in Nepal resulting from a 7.9 scale earthquake is not exempt, with both USA Today and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warning of a new crop of charity scams following the tragedy. In these schemes, cyber criminals and fraudsters will send phishing emails, create phony web sites, and make calls seeking donations… for themselves. They may also send emails purporting to raise aid money while actually containing malware attachments or directing readers to malicious web sites. Here are some generally recommended measures for ensuring your donations go to the right cause.

1. Practice good security hygiene.

Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email messages. This also applies to telephone calls. If you receive a telephone call asking for a donation, get the exact name of the organization and search online for the name plus "complaint" or "scam" before donating. Don't give over the phone - make sure the organization is legitimate and then make your donation through the charity's official site. Check the URL carefully to make sure you're on the site you intend to be and not a close imitation.

2. Check out the soliciting organization.

Sites such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Guide Star provide up-to-date information on a non-profit’s reputation and use of funds. Not only will these sites help alert you to scammers, they will help you direct your funds to the organizations best positioned to use those funds for the intended purpose.

3. Ensure your donations go to the intended recipient.

Even better than doing a web search for the target organization, use contact information supplied by the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org site. If you do a Google or other search, you may still find a scammer’s carefully disguised ad or web site - despite your best intentions.

The Federal Trade Commission also provides advice on avoiding charity scams.

Editor's note: for those looking to support recovery efforts in Nepal, please read a Digital Guardian employee's personal story and consider giving your support.

Harriet Cohen

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Harriet Cohen

Harriet Cohen is a senior product manager at Digital Guardian where she works in the Office of the CTO to turn innovative ideas for enhanced threat protection into product reality. Harriet has over ten years of experience in the security arena, encompassing both data protection and identity and access management.

James (not verified) | February 18, 2016 4:55 am

We have been attended a wonderful Unicef charity event in London where the organisers managded to raise 190K for Syrian children. I will forward them this blog as it contains very useful information so maybe it will help them to raise even more money for this fantastic case.


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