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Charities and Fundraising Phone Fraud

Charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society. Many are facing increases in costs and demands and decreases in funding. To meet these financial challenges, charities are asking for larger contributions from more donors - and they're asking more often than they used to, often using telemarketing and direct mail solicitations to raise funds for their causes. At the same time, fraudsters are using the phone and the mail to solicit for fraudulent charities.

Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers, or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.

How to avoid charity & fundraising fraud

  • Donate to recognized charities with a history. Look up the organization at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Ask the caller "Are you calling on behalf of a charity? What is the name of your organization?"

  • Look closely at charities with names similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities try to gain your trust by using names that sound or look like legitimate organizations. Ask the caller "Can you point me to a Website or another resource for more information about your organization?"

  • Avoid giving cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it's best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. Ask, "Can you give me a receipt showing the amount of my contribution and stating that it is tax deductible?"

  • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records.

  • Reject high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers don't put you on the spot to give. Ask, "Can you mail me more information about the charity and how it works?"

  • Do not do business with any charity offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.

  • Consider the costs. When you buy merchandise or tickets for special events, or get "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that part of your contribution was used to pay for it.

  • Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

  • A special word about appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events, before you give, make sure the organization has the infrastructure to deliver the help it is claiming to provide.

  • After receiving a call asking for a donation, call the charity in question to find out whether it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

Facts about Fire, Police, or Military Fundraisers

  • Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group or will benefit from the funds raised.

  • An organization may claim it has ties with local police or firefighters, but that doesn't mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Call your local organization to verify the connection.

  • Many solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by professional fund-raisers who are paid to do the job.

  • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible.

The Department of Defense does not endorse specific war-related charities.

FTC Publications

More Resources

Telemarketers who make calls across state lines on behalf of charitable organizations must comply with certain federal standards:

  • » They must make their calls between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm.
  • » They must promptly identify the charity they represent and that they are calling to ask for money.
  • » They may not lie or mislead you to get a contribution.
  • » They may not call you again if you asked them not to.