Charitable Scams: How to Identify COVID-19 Charity Fraud

We are living in a tumultuous time where our lives have become dictated by the measures we must take to protect ourselves and our communities from the threat of Covid-19. There are a variety of preventative measures that we can take to support the health of ourselves and our community and one of those methods is by donating to the charities and organizations who are assisting those most in need during this uncertain period of history.

Beware of COVID-19 charity fraud

If you are fortunate enough to be able to make a donation to such a charity, whether it be a financial donation or a donation of goods, you should be mindful that there are those out there who are preying on the goodwill and kindness of people such as yourself.

Charity fraud is incredibly common following a natural disaster or significant event. According to the FBI, there were over 400 complaints made following hurricanes Irma and Harvey regarding organizations purporting to assist with disaster relief and were instead using any donation made to line their own pockets.

Scammers are currently posing as Covid-19 relief organizations and are making statements purporting to donate to frontline workers, assisting low-income families with medical and financial help, or procuring protective equipment for frontline workers. A common Covid-19 scam that is currently happening is that individuals are selling a product and claiming that a percentage or dollar amount of the purchase will be supplied to victims of Covid-19. Such a scam was recently prosecuted in Ohio where an individual was arrested for selling coupon books while claiming a portion of the proceeds were being donated. This was false and the individual was using the prospect of the charity to drive sales. While there are many organizations actually donating profits to help with Covid-19 relief, one must be careful with whom they are making charitable contributions.

To protect our members and the members of our community from such Covid-19 fraud, Lawyers of Distinction has put together a list of methods you can use to make sure that your donations are going to the people and causes that need them the most.

Conduct online research of any charitable organization you wish to donate to. By researching the charity online, you will be able to get a better understanding of that charity’s history, outreach, and plans for the money they receive. It is also prudent to search the name of the charity along with such words as “scam”, “rating”, “reviews” or “complaints”. This will help you determine whether the organization has received any negative press regarding their practices.

Make sure that your payment method is easily tracked and can be limited to the amount you wish to donate. Reputable charitable organizations will accept methods of payment that can be easily tracked or monitored for security purposes. We recommend making donations using a check or card. Once your donation has been made, monitor your banking statements and make sure that you were charged the agreed upon donation amount and nothing more. Stay away from any individual or organization that asks you to wire money, use cash, or pay via gift card. These are common payment methods used by scammers as they are usually difficult to trace who they are being redeemed by.

Keep in mind the usual tactics that scammers use when trying to fool someone. If an individual is trying to rush your decision making or being vague about the donation process, it is absolutely within your right to take your time and conduct due diligence. Always check that the organization has a definitive plan for using any donated funds. It is also worth noting that if a charitable organization states that your donation will enter you into a sweepstakes or give-away, that this is an illegal practice and is often used by scammers to solicit donations.

Lastly, there are a number of tools you can check with to verify the legitimacy of the charity in question. Organizations such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, CharityWatch,and CharityNavigator allow you to freely search a list of reputable organizations. You can also use the IRS website to check whether your donation will be tax-deductible.

By keeping the above tips in mind, you’ll be able to best help your community and make sure that your charitable contributions are going towards the specific causes you feel are the most worthy and valuable during the Covid-19 epidemic.

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