Charity Phone Scams: Breaking Your Heart and Stealing Your Donations

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. The National Cancer Institute has estimated that 1,685,210 people will be diagnosed with a form of cancer in 2016. With such shocking rates, most of us know or are someone who is affected by cancer. For this sad reason, some desperate scammers have taken up the tactic of pretending to be charitable organizations dedicated to putting an end to cancer.

Though there are many very good charitable organizations that use your donations to make a difference, these scammers are not a part of them. The Federal Trade Commission filed charges in 2015 against four cancer "charities" that had lied to donors. Instead of using donations to assist cancer patients, the heads of these "charities" bought themselves luxury vacations and paid family members' salaries.

The criminals were able to acquire nearly $200 million in donations thanks to aggressive telemarketing campaigns. It can be very difficult to identify a fake charity phone scam. Callers have fake identities and use spoofed caller ID to mask their phone number, and they don't only pretend to be calling on behalf of cancer charities. Other common forms of charity phone scams are fundraisers for local law enforcement and fire departments, as well as natural disaster relief funds.

How to detect a charity phone scam

There are five ways in which you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of a charity phone scam:

1. Ask for more details

Ask the caller for more information such as their full name, the charity's address and how donated funds are allocated. Fake representatives may be unable to answer, get defensive or even hang up.

2. Verify the organization's legitimacy

Look up the organization online to verify both its existence and credentials. Legitimate local charities should be registered with your state, while national organizations can be verified through The Better Business Bureau Wise (BBB) Giving Alliance. If after researching a charity you'd like to make a donation you can call them back directly to do so.

3. Keep your information private

Never provide personal or financial information over the phone, particularly when asked for an up-front payment via wire transfer, pre-loaded debit card or similar. Most charities can now be donated to online via their website. It's better to donate in this way so that you have a receipt.

4. Don't give in to emotions

If the caller is using guilt tactics and suggesting you donate a certain amount, just hang up. Legitimate charities won't do this and will be grateful for whatever amount you choose to donate.

5. Avoid unsolicited support

The best way to avoid a charity phone scam is to not give donations to unsolicited calls. Only make donations to charities that you've researched and contact them directly online or via phone if you'd like to make a donation.

How to report a suspected charity phone scam

The National Do Not Call List does not apply to phone calls from charities, so phone scammers take advantage of this. If you feel that you've been contacted by a charity phone scammer, report it immediately to the FTC.

If you're unsure whether or not a caller is representing a legitimate charity tell them that you can't at the moment, or that you've already donated, and hang up. This will give you the chance to do some research and see if it's a charity that you would like to make a donation to.