How common are online charity scams? The internet, social media, and email have made it easier to stay informed and connected with friends, family, and businesses. Unfortunately, these technologies also allow scammers increased access to personal information for nefarious purposes.
Along with an endless variety of scams and fraudulent schemes, these have also become more sophisticated, making even tech-savvy people vulnerable to their harm. Fortunately, you can learn to detect signs of an online charity scam and how to avoid them.
4 Common Types of Online Charity Scams
Scammers use email, text, and websites to present themselves as fake charities or businesses to trick people into handing over their money or personal information. The more you understand the general type of charity scams out there, the easier it is to avoid them. Here are four common online scams.
- Phishing scams: These schemes trick you into giving the scammer personal information they shouldn’t have so they can steal financial or personal information. You might receive an email to update or verify your personal information or donate to a charity or emergency disaster fund. Then, you’re sent to a fake website that steals your personal information like passwords, credit card numbers, birth dates, and other personal information.
- Spoofing: A scammer creates an email address, website, and sender’s name that appears to be from a legitimate and trusted business or source. Sometimes these schemes pretend to be from a government agency. People fall for these scams because the information is believable at a glance.
- Ransomware Schemes: These scams get you to download malicious software either through pop-ups, email attachments, or emailed links. The software prevents you from using your computer unless you pay a ransom. Some of these attacks also steal data.
- Malware: Scammers send an email or social media message with a link to something interesting that requires a download of software to access the video or information. The installed software infects your computer and allows scammers to access your files, data, and personal information like passwords.
9 Ways to Avoid Online Charity Scams
Here are nine strategies to help you identify and avoid online charity scams.
1. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments in emails from unknown or unsolicited sources.
Links and attachments in emails can lead to fake websites or cause viruses to be downloaded to your computer. In general, don’t click on any links or attachments in unsolicited emails or emails from companies or people you don’t know.
If you want to check if the message is legitimate, look up the company’s phone number on your own and call. Don’t use any numbers listed in the email.
2. Be wary of emails or texts promising a guaranteed prize from a sweepstake or claiming you won a prize.
Signs of a prize scam include requesting you pay a fee, requiring you to buy something to improve your chances, wiring money, or pressuring you to “act now.” Do not respond to the email. Instead, research the company to ensure it’s legitimate.
3. Check that website addresses are valid and secure.
Examine website addresses (URLs) carefully before clicking on a website link or making a purchase to ensure they are legitimate and secure. Charity scammers often set up addresses with slight spelling differences or change the end of a URL to trick people.
To avoid fake websites and links, hover your mouse over links, texts, and images to see where they point. If you’re concerned about a URL’s authenticity, conduct a separate search for the company and compare the results to the address you have.
4. Double-check that an email address is from a legitimate source.
As with website addresses, email addresses can look like they are from an honest company but end up being a scam address. To avoid replying to a charity scam email, check the spelling carefully. Sometimes the difference is subtle, like a zero instead of an ‘o.’
Another strategy to check the email source is to hit the ‘Reply’ button and check the ‘To’ field. If the address in the ‘To’ field is different or looks suspicious, the original email is likely an online charity scam. Do not send the email you created.
5. Beware of email “lookalikes.”
Companies often have an established look to their emails and include a logo and standard banner. Unfortunately, scammers can easily recreate this look. Seeing a company’s logo and standard email banner does not guarantee that the email is legitimate.
6. Use current best practices for security to protect your online information from scammers.
Make sure your antivirus protection software is up-to-date. This software can help you avoid computer viruses if you accidentally click on a fake link. Use strong passwords, two-factor authentication when possible, and only shop or give personal information on encrypted websites.
7. Don’t respond immediately when pressured to act quickly.
Scammers are experts at creating a sense of urgency or using high-pressure tactics so you respond before you question the information. They may also request that you not talk to anyone about the offer, often claiming there isn’t time.
These tactics are red flags. No legitimate company or charity would do this. Unfortunately, these strategies are commonly used on scams targeting senior citizens.
8. Use only secure transaction methods.
Emails requesting you send money overseas, wire transfer funds, or pay using gift cards are typically scams. Legitimate companies and charities will not request money or donations using these methods. When making an online payment, use only secured transaction methods such as by credit card or payment apps like PayPal.
9. Don’t give out your username or password.
Legitimate companies, charities, and government agencies will not contact you by email or text to request your password or username. Don’t respond. Often these messages state there’s a “problem with your account.”
You can call or use a LiveChat option on the website of the company or agency that is contacting you to verify if there is indeed a problem with your account that requires verification.
How to Report a Charity Scam
If you think you’ve received a scam or been a victim of an online scam, you can report it to:
- The FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
- Your state attorney general
- Your state consumer protection office
Ellis Carter is a nonprofit lawyer with Caritas Law Group, P.C. Ellis advises nonprofit and socially responsible businesses on corporate, tax, and fundraising regulations. Ellis is licensed to practice in Washington and Arizona and advises nonprofits on federal tax and fundraising regulations nationwide. Ellis also advises donors with regard to major gifts. To schedule a consultation with Ellis, call 602-456-0071 or email us through our contact form.