Protecting Yourself From Online Scams
Your decision to make a donation is generous, and more and more donors are choosing to give online. But then again, what about the stories of online scammers that steal not just money but also personal information? Here are some tips to protect yourself and ensure that your money gets to the causes you wish to support.
Be Smart About Responding To Email Solicitations
Unlike postal mail, emails from charities are usually a result of you providing your contact information directly to that charity. You could have done this very intentionally, like signing up for an e-newsletter or action alerts from an organization you follow. If you made a donation to an organization online, signed an online petition, or responded to a survey -- perhaps through social media -- you also provided your email information. Doing so is implied, if not specific, permission for that organization to contact you via email again until or unless you tell them not to by opting out.
Email is a normal channel now for nonprofits to ask you for continued support, whether by making a contribution or doing something else to help the cause. They can reach you with very timely messages and connect you with relevant information on their website. As such, email messages you receive from a charity you have supported in the past are likely legitimate. If you have any doubt it’s always best to go directly to their website - every charity rated by Charity Navigator includes a link to the charity’s legitimate website - rather than clicking the links in the email.
Be a skeptic of email solicitations from charities you have not heard of before or haven’t in some way supported or contacted. Despite how official an email may seem it could be a scam. Do not follow any links within the message. If you are interested in the organization and want to learn more about them, here again the best starting point is to check to see if they are rated by Charity Navigator and then to contact the organization directly to learn more.
Beware Of Requests To Send Money Overseas
As a rule, any organization requesting that you send funds to a foreign bank is bogus.
Delete Unsolicited Emails With Attachments
It’s not typical for legitimate emails from organizations to include attachments. If there is something they want you to see, they are going to direct you to information or photos on their website. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures of a particular tragedy. These attachments are probably viruses. Delete!
Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework
Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs deliver heart-wrenching images and information about chariable causes to our computers and phones. Many of them include pleas to donate. While these tools can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. Take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit and then go to that charity's website to make your donation.
Be Leery Of People That Contact You Online Claiming To Be A Victim
Anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. People affected by a disaster or afflicted by a disease are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.
Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website
The results of a general web search on Google, Yahoo or another search engine may include a fraudulent site designed to look like a legitimate charity’s website. For example, even before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, criminals were setting up websites that included the keyword Katrina (such as www.katrinahelp.com and www.katrinarelief.com) in an effort to collect money and personal information. In the weeks following the devastating storm, the FBI reported that it had identified over 4,000 bogus websites that were attempting to capitalize on the goodwill of generous Americans.
So, how can you determine if a site is valid? Start by examining the web address. Most non-profit web addresses end with .org and not .com. Avoid web addresses that end in a series of numbers. Also, bogus sites often ask for detailed personal information such as your social security, date of birth, or your bank account and pin information. Be extremely skeptical of these sites as providing this information makes it easy for them to steal your identity.
Your best option is to start your web search at Charity Navigator. Our analysts have done the research for you. On each charity’s ratings page we include a direct link to the organization’s authorized website.
Give Through A Reputable And Secure Service
Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket is a secure, easy, and convenient way to give to the causes you care about. The Giving Basket will only allow donations to legitimate charities thereby protecting you from inadvertently donating to a fraudulent appeal. As a result, thousands of donors use the Giving Basket to safely donate millions of dollars annually.