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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2018 > Be a Wise Donor: Learn to Recognize Charitable Giving Scams

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Be a Wise Donor: Learn to Recognize Charitable Giving Scams

While there are many worthy causes to support, there are also some charity scams that waste donors’ contributions. Learn to be a wise donor by recognizing charitable giving scams and researching organizations you would like to support this holiday season.

Beware of Scams

Watch out for the following charity-related scams:
  • Look-a-like, fake charities: Some phony charities use names similar to those of well-known organizations but fail to use donations for the cause they claim to support. To avoid falling for an impostor, be sure to research the exact name of the charity you plan to support and find out if it is a registered charitable organization.
  • Scams following natural disasters or tragedies: These events tend to bring out scammers to capitalize on people’s generosity during difficult times. Consider giving to an organization you know to be legitimate, as opposed to waiting for one to reach out to you. For natural disasters, fraudulent campaigns can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721.
  • Police and firefighter donation scams: Some fraudulent fundraisers falsely claim to be associated with police and fire organizations. If you receive a request, check with your local police and fire organizations to confirm your donation will benefit the group you intend or to find out the best way to support the cause.
  • Crowdfunding scams: Some people ask for donations for a good cause but ultimately keep the money for themselves. If you want to make a contribution using a crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising site, find out how your donation will be used before donating. Try to determine which campaigns are legitimate and which haven’t been vetted. Also consider how much of your donation will go to the website itself or whether you will be charged any fees for making the donation.
Signs of a possible charity scam include:  
  • Requests for payment by wire transfer, gift card, or cash.
  • Organizations that pressure you to make donation decisions immediately.
  • Charities with names that are similar to well-known, national organizations.
  • Claims that you previously donated to an organization you’ve never supported.

Research Charities

With many groups and individuals seeking contributions, donors need to ask the right questions and do research to be confident their gifts will be used as they intended. 

  • Ask each charity the following questions as part of your research: How is my money being used? Where are you located? What is the legal name of your charity? How much of my money is going directly to the program?
  • Visit the Ohio Attorney General’s website to research charities. Use the links on the “Research Charities” page to connect with charity watchdog organizations and learn what others say about the group. Also beware if you can’t find any information about a charity you’re researching. That may indicate it is not a real charity. 
  • View the IRS 990 form that most tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. This form describes where organizations get their funding and how they use that funding.
  • When considering giving to a specific charity, search its name online with terms such as “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”
  • Talk with friends and family about unfamiliar solicitations. Have they heard of the group? Do they know anyone who has been assisted by this charity?

If you suspect a charity scam or questionable fundraising activity, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.