How to Avoid Donation Fraud in the Face of Disaster

Posted on September 1, 2017 by Kraig Smoley

Updated April 22, 2020

Beware of Fraudulent Organizations When Making a Donation

Donation Fraud

When there’s a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey making the national news, the reaction for many is to want to help, including making a donation. Being charitable can actually improve your physical and emotional well being1.

But State and federal aid can only go so far. Making a donation is essential for helping those affected. Unfortunately, immediately following a disaster, scammers use this opportunity to prey on the generous. This can come in the form of email “phishing” scams leading to fraudulent websites or even dangerous malware being installed on your computer. The Federal Trade Commission and The Consumerist offer some tips to help avoid scams:

Make a donation to charities you know and trust: The common theme is to do your research, and to donate to recognized charities with a proven track record.

Be alert for charities who have sprung up overnight in connection with current events: The FTC suggests the following websites to check on first: Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar.

Designate the disaster: Many organizations allow you to specify where your donation goes, such as to a specific disaster relief rather than a general fund.

Donations help purchase canned food to feed disaster victims.This rings true for any email you get, not just ones affiliated with disaster relief. You are opening yourself up to dangerous viruses or malware if you open a malicious attachment or visit a dubious hyperlink. Always exercise caution; consider visiting a reputable website directly rather than clicking a hyperlink.

Don’t assume messages asking for a donation on social media are legitimate: Research is again important, and while it may be valuable to learn about charitable needs on social media, you should consider just visiting an organization’s website directly rather than clicking on a social media link or post2.

Watch out for similar sounding names: A cursory Google search or a phone call can help you determine if an organization is legitimate or if it’s a scammer trying to trick you with a similar name.

Be wary of charities eager to collect cash: As a rule, you should refrain from donating cash to charities. Sending it through the mail could mean it’s lost or stolen. You want to especially avoid any organization who offers to send a courier to collect funds or uses an overnight delivery service. It’s best to use a credit card if you can to make your donation for security purposes.

Make sure the website you are donating on is secure: Look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL beginning with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”)3.

Regardless of the dangers, being charitable can improve your well being, and most certainly the well being of others. Don't let the threat of fraud scare you away. Proceed carefully and do your research.

Need help getting connected to a volunteering activity? Our article, Top 3 Ways to be Motivated by Volunteering, has more information.




We Can Help

Need help with emotional well being during a disaster? Give us a call and we’ll help get you pointed in the right direction with our resources, counselors or peer coaches.

  • EAP members call 800.383.1908
  • Physician Well Being Resources members call 877.731.3949

Interested in learning more?

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