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Sweet charity... or is it?

It’s Charity Fraud Awareness Week, a campaign that aims to share knowledge, expertise, and good practice in fraud prevention in an area where a lot of people are getting caught by scammers.

Charity Scams Blog Blog

It seems likely that fraud will increase through the cost of living crisis. Made somewhat worse just recently by government missteps, more people are going to become more vulnerable, with scammers for criminals using fears and uncertainty to advertise fraudulent services using bogus emails, texts and websites.

The Charity Commission has found that although two-thirds of charities note that fraud is a serious issue to them, only 9% have fraud-awareness training in place.

It’s not just the users and contributors to charities that are at risk, it is the charities, NGOs and not-for-profit organisations themselves that are also at risk. In a report on occupational fraud and abuse, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found the average organisation loses 5% of revenue to fraud each year. Only about 40% of these incidents are reported to the police. Of course, money lost by charities to fraud, scam and cyber-crime means they have less money to do the work they were set up to do in the first place.

Fiscal fakes

Sadly, scammers try to take advantage of our generosity when giving to charity. They may claim to be raising money for a fake charity or impersonate a well-known charity, not only stealing your money, but also reducing how much actually gets to where it’s needed.

Whilst most fundraising appeals are genuine and the risk of fraud should not put you off giving to charities, it’s good to be wary and make sure you are giving safely to legitimate organisations.

How do they do it?

Scammers pose as either representatives of legitimate well-known charities or sometimes they’ve been known to create their own charity name. This can include charities that conduct medical research or support disease sufferers and their families. They may also pose as individuals needing donations for health or other reasons. They might even claim to have sick children in need of medical funding.

You may find yourself approached on the street, or emailed a link to a fake charity website. Some have even been known to come knocking at the door, collecting ‘donations’.

What are the warning signs?

Firstly, if you have never heard of the particular charity before, it might be fake. It could be a fake website, email or even a letter. Fake websites are sometimes skillfully done so that they very closely resemble the real thing. The only difference might be in where to send donations.

If the person collecting doesn't have a suitable ID, that can be a sign it’s not real. But even if they do have ID, it could also be fake, or even stolen.

A telltale sign might be if they try to make you feel guilty about not donating, or getting you to make a payment quickly.

Sick scammers

Scammers know that one of the best ways to catch people out is to create a heightened sense of urgency. One of the easiest ways to create a sense of urgency is to take advantage of a crisis - which is why cyber criminals get busy whenever there is a traumatic event, whether local or global. What most of us regard as a tragedy, cyber criminals see as an opportunity. For example, the war in Ukraine, a major natural disaster such as an earthquake, and of course infectious disease breakouts such as Covid.

A good example of scammers exploiting charities has been highlighted by Age UK. Scammers have been sending phishing text messages and emails claiming to be from Age UK and other charities, to convince people to ‘donate’. In one example, a fake website was supposedly selling Coronavirus testing kits with claims that all sales proceeds would go to charities like Age UK. Fraudsters capitalise on the goodwill of the public and with charities asking for urgent donations to support efforts to help the most vulnerable.

What should you do?

The Fundraising Regulator and Charity Commission for England and Wales advise people to pause and check before donating. Firstly, always check the charity name and registration number.

If you’re still unsure about giving, always ask the organisation for more information. Legitimate causes will be happy to respond and answer your questions.

Fundraising appeals with generic wording, such as ‘to help people with COVID-19’ should be approached with caution. An appeal should always be clear on exactly what the money will be used for.

If you meet a fundraiser in-person, check their credentials:

  • Street collectors should wear an ID badge that is clearly visible
  • Any collection buckets should be sealed. Most fundraising materials will show a charity’s name, registration number and a landline phone number
  • If in doubt, ask for more information. A real fundraiser will be happy to answer any questions

When giving online, make sure the charity is genuine before giving any financial information:

  • Don’t click on links you may have been sent - type in the charity website address yourself
  • Be very suspicious of any charity that requires that you donate via cryptocurrency
  • Cyber criminals can change their caller ID phone number to make their phone call look like it’s from your local area or from a trusted name. Caller ID cannot be relied upon these days
  • Look for the registered charity number on the website
  • Never respond to any unsolicited messages or calls that ask for any personal or financial info
  • Some scammers may try to trick you into sending money to them by thanking you for a donation you made in the past when, in reality, you never donated to them
  • Beware of any online ads featuring just a mobile number
  • Ignore requests to donate through a money transfer company
  • Only donate to online fundraising pages created by a person or organisation you know and trust
  • If in any doubt, contact the charity directly
  • Be suspicious of anyone you don’t know who reaches out to you
  • Do your own research and go to the charities directly
  • Be careful how you pay. If someone wants you to pay in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it - better to use a credit card

Get control of your data

Many scammers use stolen personal data they gather from company data breaches or buy on the dark web, in order to target people. You can avoid your data being part of this by getting it deleted from any company that doesn’t need it any more. You’d be amazed at how many companies have your data, including many you've never heard of.

Use Rightly Protect to find out who’s got your data and get it deleted, quickly and for free.