Spot and Avoid Fake Online Charity / Disaster Aid Scams

Computer pointer hand pointing to written word DONATE
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There is no lower form of life than that of a scammer who takes advantage of human tragedies in order to scam people out of their money. Generous victims who think they are giving money to a good cause to help the victims of a natural disaster end up getting fleeced of their cash.

Not only does this hurt the people who really need the funding, it also makes the person who donated less likely to do so in the future for fear that it might happen again.

Here are some tips to help you avoid getting taken by fake online charities:

Don't Click Links in Unsolicited Emails

Scammers will send out spam that takes advantage of a recent tragedy. Their scam emails will purport to be from legitimate charities but the links will likely be to scam-related donation sites that they have created, or they might possibly lead to phishing sites bent on harvesting your personal information.

If you think an email is suspicious, don't visit any of the links in it and definitely don't open up any attachments in an unsolicited email, no matter how innocent they appear because they could be malware in disguise.

Be Leery of Opportunistic Website Names That Show up in Search Engines Results

Scammers will take advantage of tragedies and register domain names that sound like the name of legitimate causes. One of the more famous examples of this kind of opportunism is the original katrinahelp.com which was reportedly a scam site (at the time just after the tragedy, the domain has since changed hands).

Find The Real Charity's Main Website

(Not through a Link Provided in an Email)

The best way to donate to a charity is by going directly to the Charity's home page and proceeding from there. Avoid domains that may not be legitimate. Research any suspicious domain to see who owns it.

Again, don't click a link in an email, even if it claims to be from the real charity.

The email might redirect you to a convincing fake site that looks like the real thing. It's always best to visit the site directly and not via a link provided by some unknown third party.

Beware of Phishing Scams Disguised As Charities

Don't Give Out Too Much Personal Info

Some phishers may try to use fake donation sites in order to get more than just your donation. A charity is not going to need your Social Security Number or your birthdate in order for you to make a donation. Anyone that asks for this kind of information is probably a phishing scammer looking for the information needed to steal your identity.

Check BBB's Give.org to See if The Charity is Legitimate or Not

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has established a website called Give.org that basically vets charities to help you determine if a charity is legitimate or not. Give.org's charity "Accreditation" process looks at 20 different factors such as Board Compensation, Charity Effectiveness, Program Expenses, etc. If a charity passes the test, it receives a BBB "Accredited Charity" seal of approval, providing donors with some fairly reasonable assurance that the charity is on the up and up.

This site should be one of your very first visits when you want to check out a charity before making a donation.