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Avoiding Charity Scams PDF Email
Avoiding Charity Scams

by Ron Smith
June 2007

Ron Smith is the author of SCAMBUSTERS: MORE THAN SIXTY WAYS SENIORS GET SWINDLED AND HOW THEY CAN PREVENT IT , available at your local bookstore.

You’re at home one Saturday morning watching TV when the doorbell rings. You answer it and standing on your doorstep is a petite older woman dressed conservatively in a white blouse buttoned to the neck and a long maroon skirt. She has close-cropped white hair and a blissful smile that defines her. Saying that she has a saintly appearance would not be an exaggeration. Her very presence warms you. You smile back and ask what you can do for her.

The woman tells you she’s collecting money for the World’s Children Fund, a charity you’re not familiar with. But then again, you’re not familiar with many charities. She captures your attention when she says that your contribution alone will feed a starving child in a third-world country for a month.

You’re glad to provide a lending hand. So you dig inside your wallet, slip out two twenties, and hand the bills to her. She writes out a receipt, gives it to you and says, “God bless you.” You can’t help feeling good about yourself. You’ve contributed to a worthwhile cause and you’ve also pleased the elderly woman. After all, helping other people, particularly children, is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

From a window near the front door you watch the elderly woman walk to the house next door and solicit your neighbor. She then canvases the remainder of your block, hops in her new Lexus, hightails it to the local mall, and with the money that you and your neighbors so generously contributed, buys a new pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes and a Prada handbag. You and your neighbors have been scammed. Chances are you’ll never even know it.

Let’s review the mistakes you made along with what you could have done to prevent being taken in a charity scam.

Mistake Number One: Remember what your mom told you, oh so many years ago? Never judge a book by its cover. Good advice. You never would have believed that sweet elderly woman at your front door was a con artist. Her appearance and manners were cleverly designed to make you drop your guard.

Mistake Number Two: You didn’t ask for the charity’s registration number. Most scammers won’t have it. If you had asked, you would have discovered there is no such charity as the World’s Children Fund. But even if the more clever ones have a registration number (do not underestimate how clever these scammers are), before you contribute anything, ask the Better Business Bureau if its Wise Giving Alliance (a Website roster of legal charities) lists the charity. You can check for yourself online at Another, even more comprehensive, Website that shows legitimate charities is Charity Navigator. Find it at

Mistake Number Three: You were too eager to fork over your money. Instead, you should have asked to have the charity’s headquarters mail you literature. That normally separates the scammers from the real charities. Notice I said literature mailed to you. Not handed to you. Anybody today can dash out professional looking literature with a computer, a software publishing program, and a color printer. But few can fake receiving mail from a charity’s mailing address.

Mistake Number Four: You made a donation in cash. A big no no. And never use your credit card unless you’re absolutely sure the charity is legitimate. That’s a good way to have your credit card number stolen. You don’t need that headache. Instead, make out a check in the name of the charity, not the person soliciting funds. But only after you’ve verified its legitimacy.

And while we’re on the subject, use these same guidelines when somebody solicits you by phone. And disregard charity solicitations by email, unless you can verify the sender. Chances are they’re bogus.
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