Charitable Giving Scams

Nothing ruins the holiday spirit like a Grinch. Unfortunately, Grinches are out there, sometimes in disguise as a charity asking for your donations through the mail, over the phone, or even in person.

How can you tell the difference between a legitimate charity and a scammer? Scammers have several tricks up their sleeves to convince people to donate. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), warning signs can include:

  • Requesting or demanding you pay in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
  • Attempting to rush you into a donation. They may even thank you for a previous donation you never made.
  • Using a name that sounds similar to a charity you’ve heard of, but isn’t quite right. In 2018, the American Cancer Society (ACS) sent out a warning of a fake organization called the “American Cancer Association” that was soliciting funds and posing as ACS.
  • Making vague and sentimental claims, but giving no specifics about how your donation will be used.
  • Guaranteeing sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a donation (which is not only a scam, it's illegal).
Scam Call

The good news is when you receive a solicitation for money, you can typically sniff out a scammer yourself by doing some research.

First, search for the specific charity online: Search for its name, plus “complaint,” "review,” “rating,” or “scam.” See what you find in the results.

Additionally, there are organizations that can offer reports and ratings about how charitable organizations spend donations and how they conduct business.

Most charities in Colorado must register with the Colorado Secretary of State. You can check the charity’s status on their website.

When you decide on a charity to support, pay by credit card or check and keep a record of all donations. Make checks payable to an organization only—never an individual. Make sure to review your statements closely to make sure you are only charged the amount you agreed to donate – and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation.

The FTC has some additional helpful hints if you plan to donate online through what is called an “online giving portal.”

If you think you’ve found a scam or think you may be a victim, contact the FTC and your local law enforcement. If the solicitation came through the mail, report it to the Postal Inspection Service. Share any information you have including the name of the organization or fundraiser, phone number, and what the fundraiser said.