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Charity scams

What are charity scams?

These scams try to take advantage of your generosity. They involve a scammer collecting money by posing as a genuine charity. Not only do these scams cost you money, they also divert much needed donations away from legitimate charities and causes.

Charity scams occur all year round but are also created directly in response to disasters, such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes and bushfires. Scammers will pose as either agents of legitimate well-known charities or create their own charity name. This can include charities that research and support disease sufferers and their families. Scammers may also play on your emotions by claiming to help children who are ill.

Charity scams operate in a number of different ways. You may be approached on the street or in your home by people collecting money. Scammers may also set up false websites which look similar to those operated by real charities. Some scammers will also call you or email you with spam emails requesting donations.

Warning signs

General:

  • The charity is not known, or is well-known but the scam is operating via a fake website or fake letters and emails.

In person:

  • The person who claims to be collecting donations on behalf of the charity approaches you face-to-face and does not have any identification. Remember that even if they do have identification, it could be forged or meaningless. 
  • The person tries to put pressure on you by making you feel guilty or selfish if you don’t want to donate. 
  • The person asking for money cannot or will not give you details about the charity, such as its full name, tax status, address or phone number. 
  • The person gets defensive if you ask any questions about what the charity does and how much of the donation gets taken up by costs. 
  • The person asks for a cash donation and they don’t want to accept a cheque. Or, they want the cheque to be made out to them rather than to the charity. 
  • The person doesn’t want to give you a receipt. Or, they give you a receipt that does not have the charity’s details on it.

Websites:

  • The scam operates via a fake website which is a very close replica to a legitimate charity site. Scammers may also use replica letters and emails.
  • In the past, websites have been created that replicate all the details of reputable charities—changing only the details of where to send donations. 
  • Illegitimate online collectors will insist on payment by money transfer.

Protect yourself from charity scams

  • Approach charity organisations directly to make a donation or offer support.
  • Don’t rely on a phone number or website address given by the person who first called, visited or emailed you because they could be impersonating a legitimate charity.  
  • Never give out your personal, credit card or online account details unless you initiated contact and it is a trusted source. 
  • If you are approached out of the blue by a collector ask to see their identification. 
  • Legitimate charities are registered at the state or territory level—check with your local consumer protection agency to see if they are a genuine charity.  
  • Don't open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam)—delete them.
  • Where possible, avoid any arrangement with a stranger who asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way. 
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Report scams

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, report a scam to SCAMwatch or contact the ACCC on 1300 795 995. You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

More information

SCAMwatch has issued the following radars on charity scams in the past:

What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

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