- Search online for the cause you care about — like “hurricane relief” or “homeless kids” — plus phrases like “best charity” or “highly rated charity.” Once you find a specific charity you’re considering giving to, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” “fraud,” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, it might be best to find another organization.
- Check out the charity’s website. Does it give you details about the programs you want to support or how it uses donations? How much of your donation will go directly to support the programs you care about? If you can’t find detailed information about a charity’s mission and programs, be suspicious.
- Use one of these organizations that help you research charities:
- Find out if the fundraiser and the charity are registered. Some states require that charities register with the state regulator. Check to see if a fundraiser and the charity they’re calling on behalf of are registered with your state’s charity regulator.
- Check if the donation will be tax deductible. If this is important to you, confirm that the organization you’re donating to is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization. Look up the organization in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search.
If someone calls asking you to donate, ask important questions:
- What is the charity’s exact name, web address, and mailing address? Some dishonest telemarketers use names that sound like large well-known charities to confuse you. You’ll want to confirm this information later.
- How much of my donation will go directly to the program I want to help? The caller is most likely a paid fundraiser, not the charity itself. So after the fundraiser gives you their answer, call the organization directly and ask them, too. Or see if the information is on the charity’s website. What else does the charity spend money on? Some fundraising can be very expensive, leaving the charity with little money to spend on its programs.
- Are you raising money for a charity or a Political Action Committee (PAC)? Not every call seeking a donation is from a charity. Some calls might be from a PAC where donations are not deductible and the PAC will use the money in a different manner than a charity would.
- Will my donation be tax-deductible? To be sure, though, look up the charity in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. If donations really are tax deductible, the organization will be listed there. Remember that donations to individuals and PACs are not tax deductible.
Rules callers must follow
Fundraising calls are allowed even if your number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. If you want fundraisers to stop calling, ask them to put you on the charity’s do not call list.
When a charity’s fundraiser calls to ask you for a donation, they have to follow some rules:
- They can only call during specific times. They can't call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- They have to disclose their name and purpose. They have to tell you the name of the charity, and tell you if the reason they’re calling is to seek a donation.
- They can’t deceive you or lie about:
- The fundraiser’s connection to the charity.
- The mission or purpose of the charity.
- Whether a donation is tax deductible.
- How a donation will be used, or how much of the donation actually goes to the charity’s programs.
- The charity’s affiliation with the government.
- They can’t use a robocall or prerecorded message to reach you unless you are a member of the charity or a prior donor ― and even then they must offer you a way to opt out of future calls.
- Their caller ID has to be truthful. The caller ID on your phone has to show the name of the charity or fundraiser, along with a number that you can call to ask to be placed on the charity’s do not call list.
If a fundraiser breaks any of these rules, that might be a sign of their dishonesty. It may be best to find another way to donate to the cause you care about.
If you’re ready to donate
- Don’t pay with wire transfers or gift cards. If someone asks you to donate by wiring money through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram, or buying gift cards and sending them the codes, don’t do it. Scammers ask you to pay that way because these payment methods are hard to track.
- It’s safest to donate by credit card or check — after you’ve done some research on the charity.
- If you’re donating online, make sure the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” in the web address. That means your information is encrypted and transmitted securely. But encryption alone doesn’t mean the site is legit. Scammers know how to encrypt, too.
- Be suspicious if they insist that you donate with cryptocurrency. If someone tells you that the only way you can donate is with cryptocurrency and that the charity doesn’t accept checks or credit cards, it’s likely a scam.
After you’ve donated
- Review your bank account and credit card statements. Make sure you’re only charged the amount you agreed to donate ― and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation if you didn’t mean to.
- Keep a record of all donations. You may need them later if your donations are tax deductible.
If you sent money to a scammer, read What To Do if You Paid a Scammer for advice on how to try to recover your money.
- Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. Scammers rush you so there’s no time to research their claims or think it through.
- Don’t trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. Calls can look like they come from your local area code, or from a specific organization, even if they don’t. In reality, the caller could be anywhere in the world.
- If the fundraiser says you already pledged, stop and check. They may lie and say — in a phone call or a mailer — that you already pledged to make the donation, or that you donated to them last year. They think that means you’ll be more willing to donate.
- Listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down, and then research it. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like other charities to trick you. Do some research before you give.
- Watch out for sentimental claims with few details. Be suspicious if you hear a lot of vague sentimental claims, for example, that the charity helps many families that can’t afford cancer treatment and veterans wounded at war who can’t work, but don’t get specifics about how your donation will be used.
- Don’t donate with a wire transfer or gift card. Anyone asking you to donate this way is a scammer.
- Sweepstakes winning in exchange for a donation? Nope. If someone guarantees you’ll win a prize or contest if you contribute, that’s a scam. You won’t win anything, and your donation money will go to a scammer.
The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you know.
- Don’t assume the request is legitimate because a friend posted it. Pay attention to who posts the request on social media. Contact your friend privately or offline to ask them about the post they shared.
- Check where the link to donate goes. Does it go to a crowdfunding campaign? If that’s the case, any money you give will go directly to the crowdfunding organizer. Are you sure that person will pass the money on to the cause you want to support? Confirm with whoever posted the link that they know the person behind the fundraising.
Read Donating through Crowdfunding, Social Media, and Fundraising Platforms for more tips on what to look for when you’re asked to donate on social media or to a crowdfunding campaign.
Have you ever donated clothes or home goods to a charity? Those non-cash donations to a charity are called gifts-in-kind. Sometimes the gifts-in-kind can be large ticket items, like a car or medical equipment that’s not being used.
When a charity uses and reports these donations properly, gifts-in-kind can be an important part of a charity’s programs. But a dishonest charity might mark up the value of donated goods to make their organization appear more financially successful than it really is.
When you research the charity, pay attention to how the organization spends its cash, not just the value of gifts-in-kind. If a charity is using gifts-in-kind to inflate its operations, but then spends most of its cash to pay executives or cover operating expenses, you may want to consider donating to a different organization.
Report scams to
When you report a charity scam, share any information you have — like the name and phone number of the organization or fundraiser, how the fundraiser contacted you, and what the fundraiser said.