Elder Abuse: Preventing Charity Fraud


Happy Holidays to you, your family and your loved ones! December is the season for giving. It is a time when we tend to think about what we can do to help others. Unfortunately, scammers often prey on these feelings of goodwill and use it to commit charity fraud. You can protect yourself from these types of scams by following this “Charity Checklist.”

Always ask for detailed information about the charity. This includes its name, address, telephone number, as well as the organization’s mission and how the donation will be used. Ask what percentage of your donation will go to its programs versus administrative costs. Those that refuse to provide this information may be scammers.

Consider calling the charity yourself and speaking with their development staff. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If a request comes from a group claiming to help a local charity, contact the local agency. Ask if they have heard of the group and if they are authorized to seek funds on their behalf.

Research the organization soliciting you. Many scammers trick their targets by using a name that closely resembles a known, reputable organization. Go online and search the exact name of the organization along with the words “complaint” or “scam” to see if they are already flagged as illegitimate. You may also check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (bbb.org/us/charity) or sites such as Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) which provides ratings of charitable organizations, along with a breakdown of how their funds are used. In Massachusetts, all public charities are required by law to register and file annual reports with the Attorney General’s Office. These annual reports, as well as documents filed by professional fundraisers, may be accessed online at www.charities.ago.state.ma.us.

Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, always pay by a check made out to the charity or by credit card – only after you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.

Never wire money. Scammers often request that money be wired. However, this is just like sending cash. Once you send it, you cannot get it back.

Beware of manipulation and tactics. Scammers may want you to donate right away, not allowing you time to think and do your research. In other cases, they may thank you for a pledge that you don’t remember making. If they offer to send a courier or overnight delivery service to immediately collect the donation, this could be another sign of a scam.

Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means that you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.

For more information visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/charityfraud.  To file a complaint visit www.consumer.ftc.gov or call toll free at 1-877-FTC-HELP. (1-877-382-4357). You can also watch a video on how to file a complaint at www.consumer.ftc.gov/media.

Education is the key to prevention. Protect yourself from fraud and scams.