How to Avoid Charity Scams When Donating to Coronavirus Relief—Plus 5 Organizations You Can Trust
Here’s how to spot red flags and guarantee your money goes directly to the intended cause.
Even in the midst of a health crisis, Americans are uniquely adept at giving.
According to a 2019 study by The World Giving Index, Americans self-reported giving more money to charities and volunteering their time more often than any other nation in the world. The report also noted Americans gave a whopping $427.71 billion to charities in 2018. And that number doesn’t appear to be slowing any time soon.
With the spread of the coronavirus, charitable organizations large and small, as well as individual people, began collecting money for those who needed it for everything from food and home goods, to cold hard cash to cover rent. That also includes some of the world’s richest people, who’ve collectively donated billions of dollars toward finding a vaccine for COVID-19. However, you don’t need to be rolling in cash in order to give. But what you do need to know is what to look for in a charitable organization so you can avoid being scammed and guarantee your hard-earned money is actually going to the cause you support.
“Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus. They’re setting up websites to sell bogus products and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shared back in February.
The FTC even created a humorous scammer bingo card to further prove the point of just how widespread scams really are. “The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your neighborhood. They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments,” the FTC says.
Even still, don’t let potential scammers deter you from giving. Learn how to spot a fake and how to determine a charity or fundraiser’s legitimacy with these pro tips.
Search for the charity on a well-known database.
The good news is that finding a reputable charity to donate to can be easy, as long as you know where to look. Luckily, there are a number of databases that sift through charities and do all the hard work, including checking out their tax returns, finding out how much they donate, and even rating them based on their contributions. Those databases include BBB Wise Giving Alliance, CharityWatch, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator.
“If you want to make sure your donation is going to a real charity and to one that uses your donation well, use Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket,” the company explains in a blog post. “Our Giving Basket is a secure, easy, and convenient way to give to the causes you care about that only allows donations to legitimate charities, making sure you don’t donate to a fraudulent appeal.”
Check out the charity’s website.
See a Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram post from a seemingly reputable charity or fundraiser seeking donations? Don’t give right away. Instead, spend a little time researching online to find out more. If it’s a charity, it should be easy to find the website, as well as its EIN, or tax ID number, showing its charitable status. If it’s a fundraiser, try to find any media coverage or additional information that can validate its legitimacy. And remember, just because it’s on a site like GoFundMe doesn’t always mean it’s the real deal—make sure to do your homework.
Be cautious about donating over the phone or via text.
Phone scams are, sadly, becoming much more prevalent. It’s easy now for scammers to mimic the phone numbers of actual charities, as well as make text message appeals look frighteningly real. However, a legitimate charity would never pressure you to donate immediately over the phone or via text, and will gladly point you to legit websites to donate through instead.
Find out just how much of your donation actually goes to charity.
It’s important to do a little bit of digging to ensure the lion’s share of your donation actually goes to the charity. Yes, it’s likely that parts of your donation will go to actually running an organization, but, as AARP noted of the advice given by Wise Giving Alliance, at least 65 percent of a charity’s total expenses should go directly to the people or cause it’s serving.
Go with your gut.
As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Like all things in life, it’s important to trust your instincts when it comes to giving away your hard-earned cash. If something feels off, it’s OK to move on and find something that feels right. And if you’re really in doubt, or simply want to give something other than cash, it’s more than alright to donate goods or give of your time by volunteering instead.
National Charities Supporting COVID-19 Efforts
Still need more guidance? Here are five vetted, national charities that could use your donations to help them aid in COVID-19 efforts right now.
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen has been donating time and meals for years, but now it’s also working to “safely distribute individually packaged, fresh meals in communities that need support – for children and families to pick up and take home, as well as delivery to seniors who cannot venture outside.”
The Red Cross
Want to give a gift more precious than cash? The Red Cross is desperately seeking blood donors to help those in need.
Heart to Heart International
Heart to Heart International is working to distribute “urgently needed equipment and medication to partners here and around the world during this global crisis.”
Though Project C.U.R.E. typically focuses on international missions, it has now shifted to also support “local healthcare systems in the U.S. including donations to hospitals, EMS, and governments in Denver, Nashville, Houston, Chicago, and Phoenix.”
International Medical Corps
The International Medical Corps is now working in conjunction with the World Health Organization to leverage its “relationships with local and national ministries of health globally to provide expertise, equipment, training, and triage and treatment services.”