Want to Help a Charity? Don’t Donate Over the Phone

charity scams

It’s amazing how one phone call can throw off your whole morning. As I was sitting down to work a few weeks ago, my phone rang and I answered. I was not expecting to almost become a victim of one of the most successful charity scams.

How charity fraud almost hit my wallet

The call seemed innocent enough. A pleasant-sounding man asked if I wanted to donate to a charity for police officers. I had a hard time understanding the name of the charity; when I asked for clarification, things started to get weird.

“So I’ll put you down for $75 then?”

That was what he asked me after I told him I couldn’t hear the name of the charity he was calling for. At that point, I was open to the idea of donating and thrown off by this response.

“Sir,” I said. “I’m not going to donate any money until I know more about your charity. Can you tell me the name again?”

After a few more tries, he finally said the name loud enough so I could hear it, but then immediately asked again if he could “put me down for $75.”

“I need to do some research,” I said. “If you can’t tell me more, I’m not going to donate by phone today. Why don’t you give me a website address or give me a call again in a few days?”

“Okay,” he said. “I’m just trying to see if you’re interested in donating.”

“Possibly, but I need to do some more research first.”

“So what can I put you down for then? $150?”

I was livid at this point. I wasn’t giving him the brush-off or berating him for the unsolicited call. But in my attempts to make sure his charity was real, he ignored my requests for more information and continued to give me the hard sell to donate. By the end of the call, I even asked him if he could hear the words I was saying. His response?

“Great, so $150 then?”

How to avoid charity scams

There are many ways scams enter into our lives these days, but the phone is especially dangerous. There’s no easy way to verify if the caller is from a legitimate charity.

So, how can you tell if someone calling you is honest or part of a charity scam?

1. Start with a Google search

In my case, I was sitting at my laptop when the call happened, so I did a quick Google search (once the caller finally said the name clear enough for me to hear, that is). And what I found was pretty jarring.

When I typed the name of the charity into Google, two of the top results were sites listing “America’s worst charities.” Pretty ominous, right?

I then found out that 90 percent of the proceeds to this charity goes to telemarketers. Not exactly the type of thing I want to donate my hard-earned money to.

2. Search for the charity on one of these sites

I was lucky that a Google search told me enough, but there are other ways to get information on the charity asking you for money. US News & World Report lists a few sites to help you research charity scams, including sites like Charity Navigator. You can also check with the IRS.

And if you’re already been victimized by charity fraud? You can report the charity scam on the FTC.

Last year the FTC uncovered several cancer charities that scammed donors out of $187 million. Incorrigible? Yes. Unique? No. Five minutes of research is worth making sure you’re giving your money to a credible charity.

3. Don’t give them your credit card number

Not every charity scam is obvious. Even if you’re won over from a phone call, don’t donate right away. Yes, we like to give people credit for their work, but most legitimate charities don’t rely on telemarketers to fundraise.

If you’re contacted by a charity over the phone, don’t just hand over your credit card number. Say thank you, hang up, and then do some research. If the charity is real and gives a large portion of proceeds directly to the cause, then you can always donate online (use these tips to make sure your personal information is protected).

It’s too easy to be won over by the wrong person on the phone. Saying no to donating over the phone doesn’t mean you can’t ever donate to that charity – it simply gives you a chance to make sure it’s legitimate first.

A positive end to a close call on fraud

To say I was angry at the end of that phone call is an understatement. What if I wasn’t already aware of the many ways people try to defraud consumers? What if I succumbed and donated money to a charity that pays more to telemarketers than the cause?

Instead of stewing all day, I decided to use my anger for good. I immediately pitched this article to my editor so I could spread the word on what happened to me. Then I thought about how easily I almost gave in. The truth is, I wanted to donate to charity. I just didn’t realize how much I wanted to until I got the call.

If you’ve recently felt a desire to give back, great! People in America are donating record levels to charities – just make sure the one who gets your money is legitimate before you do. And, while you’re at it, learn how you can write off your charitable donations.

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