Charity Scams on the Increase

By Richard Dahl on November 23, 2020

As we continue to battle COVID-19, many charities and non-profits are feeling economic pain caused by the loss of revenue from fundraising events and other usual sources.

Many of us are aware that charities – and the people they serve – need help now more than ever. Thankfully, those with the resources to do so are opening their wallets, even more dramatically than they did after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 recession.

We can take heart in human generosity.

But we can also be disheartened to learn that there are people who look at this well-meaning kindness as little more than an opportunity to steal.

We are talking scammers.

The Many Ruses Scammers Employ

In the early stages of the pandemic, scammers seemed to focus on selling fake remedies. Then, when the government approved disbursement of pandemic relief checks, scammers would promise people faster delivery of the checks if they paid a fee.

Lately, scammers have been targeting charities.

In October, the FBI issued an advisory cautioning people to be aware of heightened scam activity involving fake charities.

“Nationwide, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have received reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19," the agency said. “They are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don't let them."

The scams can take various forms. One takes the form of a fictitious charity that merely sounds real. Another is when a scammer poses as a representative of a real charity. Either way, their sole purpose is to separate you from your money.

Advice From the FBI and the BBB

The FBI offers advice in dealing with people who say they represent charities and are asking for donations:

  • Always be careful when somebody phones and asks for donations. Remember that you can't trust caller ID — scammers often spoof organizations' phone numbers.
  • If you receive an email from someone claiming to be with a charity, never click any links. They could be used to provide access to your identity or to transfer viruses onto your computer or phone.

The Better Business Bureau has also been warning people about charity scams during the pandemic. Here are a few pointers from the BBB:

  • Don't make on-the-spot donations. Take time to research the organization.
  • If a caller is pressuring you, just hang up.
  • Check the charity's rating on the BBB's, which lists organizations that have received BBB accreditation by meeting 20 “standards of accountability," ranging from governance to fundraising.

If you have been scammed or suspect a scammer, you should notify the consumer-protection division of your state attorney general's office. You may also notify the Federal Trade Commission or fill out a complaint on the Better Business Bureau's BBB Scam Tracker.

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