How to Tell if a Charity Is Legitimate

Most people enjoy the opportunity to make a significant difference by giving to charity. However, nobody likes to be taken advantage of. Charitable giving is an honorable—perhaps even noble—action. But when you give, make sure you know who you are giving to and how the money will be used.

If you already have a history with a particular charity, you are probably safe in giving to them. It is unlikely that they are going to take your money and run. If they have been operating publicly for several years, then it is doubtful that they are fraudulent.

There are other charities that you may not have a personal history with but which you are familiar with and recognize as having a good reputation. Long-standing reputable charities are generally a safe place to invest your money. If they have a proven track record of using donations responsibly, you can be assured that they will continue to do so with your contribution.

Even when you are familiar with the charity, though, you should make sure that they are who they say they are. Sadly, it is not uncommon for imposters to pretend to represent a charity in order to embezzle money from well-intentioned donors.

If you have initiated contact with the charity yourself, you are probably safe. Especially if you are making your donation in person at a local branch, you can feel pretty secure in making your donation.

If you are responding to a mailing you received from the charity, you may want to confirm that the address given is correct. You can do this by visiting the charity’s website or checking the contact information provided by the charity to the federal government.

When you receive donation requests in your email or on the Internet, take the time to search online to confirm if the request is legitimate. There are a plethora of websites that help identify online scams.

You may also receive phone calls requesting donations. Charities often have annual fundraising campaigns which involve a telephone component, so those calls you get may be legitimate. But it is also possible that you may receive one of the thousands of fraudulent calls made by scammers every year.

There are some warning signs of calls from fraudulent charities. For example, you can be tipped of if the caller starts calling you by your first name. This is a technique used by fraudulent charities to cozy up to you and gain your trust.

If the caller is putting unusual pressure on you to make a donation, he or she is a best unprofessional. At worst, you are talking to a con artist. If you are feeling uneasy, simply tell the caller that you are not interested and hang up.

Feel free to ask the caller to slow down and repeat himself or herself. Scammers will often rush through their spiel, hoping you will not call them on it. And ask as many questions as you’d like. Legitimate charities are eager to tell you about their programs and endeavors.

Clearly identify what charity is contacting you. Many charity names sound similar, and less trustworthy ones will try to capitalize on any mistaken identity.

Do not divulge any personal information (such as a credit card number or Social Security/Social Insurance Number) unless you are confident in the identity of the charity and know why the information is required. Scammers who are able to get hold of your personal information may be able to drain your bank account or steal your identity.

Finally, ask the caller to send you some information in the mail so you can decide about making a contribution. If it is a scam, it is unlikely you will receive anything. But even if you do, it will provide you with time to verify the identity and contact information of the charity.

Legitimate charities depend on the generosity of donors in order to operate. So give, but give responsibly.