The Nine Signs of a Charity Scam

Whenever disaster strikes there are many who want to give to those that have been struck with great misfortune. In fact so many are willing to give to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters that others try to take advantage of this natural charitable trait. All sorts of organizations suddenly spring up overnight it seems, ready to help you send your hard earned money, cans of food, piles of clothes, or other donations to the people and the place where it is needed the most. However, all these new charities competing for your donation make it hard to determine who can best receive your donation and put it to the best use. So how can you make sure that you are giving to a legitimate charity organization? According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are 9 warning signs:

photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of
  1. The organization does not give out written information about its identity, its mission, its costs, and how the donation will be used. A legitimate organization will have no trouble providing this information.
  2. The charity will not provide proof that your contribution is tax-deductible.
  3. Scammers try to confuse the public by naming their organization to resemble a legitimate top charities. For example the American Cancer Society is a well known research organization that does wonderful work in the area of cancer research and awareness. Be sure that when you donate to this organization, that you are giving to the American Cancer Society and not the United States Cancer Association which does not exist to my knowledge.
  4. You get a letter or phone call thanking you for your donation (even though you don't remember making a contribution to the aforementioned program) then they ask if you might want to donate some more. This one is pretty slick.
  5. If someone calls you on the phone saying that they are asking for donations for earthquake victims in Haiti then asks for your bank account number or credit card number before you have reviewed the organization's information or even gave consent to donate...beware!
  6. Any organization that uses high-pressure tactics or puts a guilt trip on you to donate is a warning sign.
  7. Any organization that asks you to donate in cash is a big red flag.
  8. An organization that will send out a courier to collect your donation with such urgency is suspect.
  9. Don't fall for solicitations where they promise a guarantee of sweepstake winnings in exchange for your donation. Under US law, you are not required to donate in order to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.


There are several resources that you can use to determine whether a charitable organization is legitimate. The following are referred by the FTC and their links and descriptions are below:

  • BBB Wise Giving Alliance is affiliated with the Better Business Bureau

  • The American Institute of Philanthropy

  • Charity Navigator is based in New Jersey

  • Guidestar based in Virginia

Once you have checked the organization using any or all the above resources, you will be in a better position to make prudent choices about your donations.

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Comments 21 comments

JBeadle profile image

JBeadle 6 years ago from Midwest

Good advice. I have to wonder how low of a person you have to be to take advantage of a disaster. Robbing people in need, like hurricane survivors, by grifting good hearted contributors. I've heard that if you want to give, it is better to be the person making the call than to give to an unsolicited caller.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Hi JB, it never fails to amaze me what comes out of the woodwork in the most trying of times. It's an unfortunate fact of life.

itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

Great guide flightkeeper-well done.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Thanks itakins, it's a big peeve of mine when people give money for good intentions and other people try to rob the giver and those in need.

ceciliabeltran profile image

ceciliabeltran 6 years ago from New York

Thanks this is such an inspiration. A functional hub that people could really use. Yeah, I should have more of these!

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Hi ceciliab, I'm glad you found this hub useful. I'd hate it if the wrong people were getting money.

philmaguire profile image

philmaguire 6 years ago from Jersey, Iles de la Manche

There are two others you have missed which I only know about because people contacted me for advice on them.

1. Someone contacted my brother claiming that they were provding educational materials for schools for young children on something valuable like "Not Talking to Strangers" for which his business would be mentioned in the book as a supporter for a small fee of (in this case) £300. My brother said he would be interested but quite correctly wanted to see an example to prove intention to publish. A little later he got an invoice and when he contacted them, they clamed that they had a recording of the previous conversation where he agreed to pay them and they would sue him for breach of contract if he failed to pay up. He got me involved, I contacted them and called their bluff. We have not heard from them since

2. Another friend had a telephone contact from someone claiming to be from a legitimate English charity and was after donations. So far so good. For some reason, my friend got me involved. So I asked the caller for their charity number. He then became vague and coy. I asked them to send us some literature about the cause and then we would talk. I am still waiting.

I also refuse to give anything to people who have an open bucket with a a handwritten label on. You usually find them in supermarkets and pubs. Authorized fundraisers will use sealed donation boxes and carry identification. I know this because this is how I do it when I fundraise.

Hope this helps. Keep up the good work.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Hi Phil, thanks for these new developments. Unfortunately some people out there use their smarts to concoct up more scams to defraud people of their hard earned money instead of trying to help the situation.

Car Donations 6 years ago

Some decent points here. Katrina brought out the worst in scammers. I can not believe there are people willing to benefit from others hardships. It is very sad!

masmasika 6 years ago

Great hub and timely too. We live in a world full of sin. Many people seem to take advantage of charity as a source of a good income. They do charity work not to help the unfortunate but to rob people of what little they have. It's sad but this is reality in this modern world that many people miss to see.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

So true masmasika, thanks for dropping by.

Shawn Scarborough profile image

Shawn Scarborough 6 years ago from The Lone Star State

This is some great information. I am always worried about getting scammed when I donate to a charity. This is some very helpful information to have. Voted up and awesome.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Thanks Shawn, there are so many generous people, it's important that their money goes to the people they want to help.

WordofMouse profile image

WordofMouse 6 years ago

You make a great point about donating to established charities. I went through a local group two years ago and "adopted" a family for Christmas. I spent about $300 on clothes, board games, makeup kits, etc. for the family. After spending all that money, the husband e-mailed me after picking up the gifts to tell him that I "ruined" their Christmas and that his wife was too depressed to come out of her bedroom because I got the wrong sizes (I got exactly the sizes the wife sent me). I now think they were planning on taking my gifts and selling them, but then when they realized I only got them specific items without a lot of resale value, they got mad and tried to guilt-trip me into getting them other, more expensive, items.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Wow wordofmouse, some people are really just ungrateful. I'm glad you ruined their Christmas :)

Seo essex 5 years ago

A good scams are unfortunately a daily concerns and still too many people fall for them

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 5 years ago from The East Coast Author

True, Seo essex, it's a good sign though that there are so many who want to help. It's just a matter of trying to steer them to legitimate organizations.

lime light power profile image

lime light power 5 years ago from NY NY

What I find a little depressing is the number of critical comments in response to a hub with title words of "charity" and "scam", indicating that perhaps the scammers get more attention that the real ones. Although that would make sense with the high pressure tactics illustrated.

One charity that I just wrote about and think probably does a good job and is worth supporting:

bevhepting01 profile image

bevhepting01 4 years ago from Blandford Forum, UK

Great information. Sometimes we forget that there are evil people around when disaster happens.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 4 years ago from The East Coast Author

Unfortunately a lot of evil people see opportunity when disaster strikes.

Johnd345 23 months ago

obviously like your website but you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless Ill definitely come back again. eekbfkeeaegc

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