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Natural disasters, local crises, pleas for the less fortunate during the holiday season — all of these scenarios might prompt you to donate to those in need. It's no coincidence that charity scams increase during these situations; scammers are betting on your do-good instincts.

Avoiding charities that are scams requires a hefty dose of skepticism and some detective work to sift through the good and the bad. Here's how to zero in on charities worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

Learn to Avoid Solicitations

Scammers hope to catch you off guard and will use many forms of solicitation to trick you.

Telephone calls are problematic the minute you say "hello." The caller could be a) an outright fake, posing as a known charity, b) a charity where the hired telemarketer keeps the majority of donations, or c) a legitimate charity. You have no way of verifying who's on the other end. Scammers often use "cloaking" technology to make it look like their phone call, text, or email is coming from a legitimate charity. Never give your personal or credit card information to anyone over the phone.

Email and text messages come with even bigger worries. Scammers can cloak email addresses and create faux websites to resemble a reliable charity. Links from fraudsters can load malware onto your desktop, tablet, or smartphone to corrupt your files and steal your personal and financial information. Don't reply to email or text solicitations or click on embedded links. If it's a charity you've supported in the past, type in the official website URL yourself and donate directly.

Research the Charity

Whether you're approached directly or have a vague idea you want to donate to disaster relief, you should always do your own research before giving. Don't go by name recognition alone. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Some of these nonprofits may be outright scams or have low financial accountability, meaning donations aren't going for their stated purpose.

Three main charity watchdog groups rate some, but not all, of these nonprofits: BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch. Check charities with these organizations first, but if a charity isn't listed, that doesn't automatically mean it's a scam.

Guidestar maintains a database of all registered nonprofits and their related financial information. Charity Navigator provides detailed guidelines on how to evaluate charities it doesn't rate, focusing on the financial health of an organization, accountability and transparency, and results.

Secure Giving

Once you decide on a charity, go the extra mile to donate directly. Your money will go further by avoiding the middleman fees of hired fundraisers. Never donate via wire transfer or gift cards, a tactic used by many scammers because the money is then untraceable. Finally, check that your donation is tax-deductible.

While this may sound time-consuming, remember that it took you time to earn that money. A little due diligence will ensure that your charitable contributions reach their intended recipients and not scammers lining their pockets on your generosity. Continue to give, just give wisely.


This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

By selecting any external link on, you will leave the KeyBank website and jump to an unaffiliated third party website that may offer a different privacy policy and level of security. The third party is responsible for website content and system availability. KeyBank does not offer, endorse, recommend, or guarantee any product or service available on that entity's website.

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