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How to Spot a Charity Scam Artist

Corporate Social Giving Tips


Many kind-hearted individuals and businesses make financial donations towards the end of the year. Unfortunately, online scam artists count on this and step up their efforts to steal valuable identifying information, load your computer with viruses, and swindle donors through Email solicitation campaigns.

How Email Charity Scam Artists Con Donors

Scam artists send out their mass email campaigns asking for charitable donations for a variety of causes. Online scam artists have gotten more sophisticated and are no longer simply asking you to mail them information or offering a hyperlink (usually to a virus or form to input identifying information.) Many scam artists are now taking the time to develop actual "charity" websites in an attempt to convince you that they are real.

Before you make an online donation to any charity you are unfamiliar with check them out. Unfortunately, not all charities are listed in the online IRS database (which is about two years behind in listing charities it has approved for tax exemption status.) If you cannot find the charity online, call the IRS or your state's tax board.

Typically, only multi-million dollar charities are listing in registries like GuideStar. Even the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is now starting to list charities, is misleading, because to get your charity listed with the BBB, you only have to pay a (steep) registration fee.

But you can still spot a scam artist by being alert to the following dead giveaways that a charity is a scam.

Charities That Ask for Too Much Information Are Scams

Any charity that asks for too much information, including your date of birth, social security number or driver's license information is a scam.

Charities are not required by the IRS or state charity laws to collect this information and they do not need this information to process a donation or issue a tax receipt.

Unsolicited Mass Email Campaigns Are Dead Give Aways

Charities are bound by CAN SPAM Laws - they are not allowed to contact you through purchased mass email lists, and they cannot use web robots to collect Email addresses from public Internet sources.

In fact, unless you have previously donated to a particular charity, I would be highly suspicious of any charity that contacted you via Email out of the blue.

Discard any Email that is sent to "Undisclosed Recipients." It is almost certainly a scam.

Charities Do Not Send Attachments in Solicitations

Legitimate charities are smart about their solicitations. They know people are unlikely to open emails with attachments and they do not send them.

Do not open any charity Email with an attachment. And, before you click on any hyperlink in a solicitation Email be sure you are not clicking on a virus link.

If you are not sure how to do this, read How to Spot Fake Hyperlinks in Emails.

Fake Charity Website Dead Giveaways

Check out the charity's website before you visit it or click on Email hyperlinks. The fastest and easiest way is to check out the website's domain registration information.

To see when a website went live, visit www.Whois.sc and enter in the domain name. Whois.sc will tell you when the website went live, where its servers are located, etc. You do not have to create an account, and basic information about websites is free.

Scammers almost always purchase domain names for one year. They expect to get caught and shut down and discard the domain. Whois.sc allows you to look at when the domain registration expires. If it will expire in less than one year, they might be a scam artist.

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