In the past month, two mass shootings in the U.S. and a massive hurricane devastated the Bahamas. These stories and their heart-wrenching images have dominated the news daily since their occurrences. There are many who are in desperate need of donations for their losses (funeral expenses, disaster relief and recovery). Unfortunately, scammers are also looking to take advantage of these situations by exploiting good Samaritans. Beware of spam email messages, fake charity websites and door-to-door solicitors who claim they help the victims of these catastrophic events. Here are a few tips provided by the AARP to avoid becoming a victim of charity fraud:
1. Check out the Agency or Charity
Before donating to a charity, take time to authenticate it. In addition to the Wise Giving Alliance, charity names and reputations can be vetted at Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar. You can also contact the agency in your state that regulates charities. Be suspicious of charities not listed or with questionable track records.
2. Don’t let unfamiliar entities in
Unless you previously donated to an organization and have already provided your contact information, it’s wise to assume that an unsolicited donation request by email or phone is a scam. Don’t click on links in emails, Facebook or Twitter; they can unleash computer malware.
3. Examine the Web address
When using an Internet search engine to find charities, treat the results pages with caution. Carefully read organizations’ Internet addresses before clicking on them. Scammers often create rogue websites with sly misspellings, tweaks or sound-alike names. Also know that legitimate nonprofit organizations typically end in .org, not .com.
4. Don’t be enticed by photos
Emails or sketchy websites may have links promising photographs or video of disaster areas. Never click on them. Malware could be the result.
5. If you do entertain requests for money, do so smartly
Don’t provide credit card information to a caller, even if your Caller ID indicates it’s a legitimate charity (scammers have ways to make whatever number they want appear on your screen). Say no to offers to send a courier to your home to pick up a donation.
Instead, tell the caller to mail you printed information. (If the organization doesn’t already have your address, do not provide it. Why tell a strange caller where you live?) Although mailed material is no guarantee of legitimacy, organizations that won’t provide it are usually scams. So, once you get the paperwork, see if the contact information and mailing address match what you find with your own online search or the verification websites noted above. Or simply look up the number of the charity yourself and call it.
6. Say no to door-to-door solicitors
Front-door solicitors should leave behind printed materials that allow you to vet them before mailing a check or making an online credit card donation. Avoid giving cash to strangers claiming to be collecting for charities.
7. There’s no such thing as “all the money goes to charity”
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Legitimate organizations typically spend up to 35 percent of donations on fundraising and administrative costs (but ideally, less than 25 percent).
8. Speak out!
If you were approached or solicited by a suspected fraudster, tell others.
Disasters are not the only time scammers strike. CPS Energy encourages customers to always be on alert and know we will never call to demand payment at your home or business. Find more tips about scammers at cpsenergy.com/scammers.