FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Charity Fraud

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against charity fraud.

Are you a kind-hearted person who donates frequently to those in need? Someone who can be easily swayed by sad puppy-dog-eyes—a child in need—a community in crisis?

Legitimate charities play an important and valuable role by helping those who are most vulnerable. Schools and religious groups rely heavily on the support of donors. But, while many charities are reputable, there are scam artists out there always counting on your sympathetic nature to make a quick buck.

The definition of charity fraud is pretty simple: someone is using deception to get you to donate money to what you think is an important cause. The fraudster may ask you to help fund breast cancer research or to give to someone who has been injured in a tragic accident.

Charity fraud can happen at any time, but the instances of it often spike after a natural disaster. The news and social media are filled with photos of chaos and destruction following an earthquake or tornado or hurricane. You feel helpless, and the fraudster knows it. These criminals will create fake social media accounts and websites to make it easy for you to give. Just click the link, and you will feel like you’ve made a difference. Unfortunately, those most in need will likely never see your funds.

So, how can you be generous to legitimate charities and avoid getting scammed?

  • Be skeptical of e-mails or social media posts asking for donations.
  • Do not respond to an unsolicited e-mail. Likewise, do not click on any links or open attachments from an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Make donations with credit cards or checks made out to a specific organization. Avoid using cash or pre-paid cards.
  • Do not allow someone to pressure you into donating. Credible organizations won’t try to guilt you.
  • Check to make sure the charity is registered in your state. Often, the state will list this information on its official website.
  • Check the charity’s rating as posted through a reputable, independent site.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.

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