A Deeper Look into Charity Scams and How They Target Businesses

Charity scams aren't new, and the number of people who fall for them regularly ensures they're not going away anytime soon. But if you think you're immune because businesses aren't targeted the way individuals are, think again.

Small businesses are especially vulnerable because one wrong decision by an owner or key individual can severely dent any budget. And throwing away money in times like these is never a good idea.

Here are several insights into charity scams you can learn from that can protect your business and livelihood.

Disasters Bring Out the Best and Worst

It's human nature to want to help when a category five hurricane levels a coastal city or a raging wildfire leaves countless homeless. While legitimate charities have collected millions in aid to assist in crises like these, fake ones have also made off with significant amounts.

"Any time there's something that is in the spotlight, there are going to be folks that are taking advantage of that," said Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer at Charity Navigator, in this CNBC.com piece.

His organization independently evaluates and rates nonprofits and recommends checking out the charity on sites like these before giving:

He also recommends keeping a skeptical eye on new charities during disasters and sticking to established ones, like the Red Cross, if in doubt.

Be Wary of Charity Impersonators

Charity spoofing takes scamming to increasingly disturbing levels. After all, who can blame a business owner or individual who falls for a fake website that looks identical to the actual charity?

Sniffing out a fake charity takes time and an eye for slight differences scammers hope you'll overlook. Here's where you should pay attention when they come calling:

Email Appeals

  • If the sender's email address doesn't resemble the charity, it's fake.
  • If the email was sent over the weekend or at odd hours, it's cause for suspicion.
  • Watch for spelling and grammar errors and typos, sure signs something's not right.
  • Pay attention to branding; it's suspicious if a logo is out of date or the colors are off.

Fake Websites

  • Legit sites have an 'https' prefix, the word secure, a padlock, or the color green in the address.
  • Spoofed charity sites may have a slightly different address, like reddcross.org.
  • Fake sites may be poorly designed or just feel off in ways legitimate ones aren't.

If you suspect you're dealing with a charity spoofer, your best bet is to look up the charity directly and key in the address by hand. Never donate through an email link and use a credit card which offers more protection than a debit card.

Consider Donating Goods and Services Instead of Cash

Charity scammers are in the business of taking cold, hard cash. They can easily pocket donations made with plastic, wire, or any other means of money transfer.

But donations of goods and services are harder to process—and quite frankly, most scammers don't want a palette of donated goods or the hassle of trying to turn them into cash. That's why some business owners who want to help choose a different type of donation.

Disaster Specific Goods

Most natural disasters request donations of essential goods, such as non-perishable food, clean drinking water, and blankets. Legitimate charities have links on their sites that explain how you can go about donating these items if you're so inclined.

Goods and Services You Offer

You may also have the option of putting your own goods and services toward the cause. If you're in construction, consider sending a crew to help rebuild homes and infrastructure. If you run a catering business, put your skills in meal prep logistics to work.

These types of donations avoid the pitfalls of donating cash to potentially fake charities and allow you to apply your passion beyond normal boundaries, adding a sense of fulfillment in the process.

Follow Your Head

Whether you're donating in a time of crisis or simply looking to make a charitable difference as a business owner, the number one rule is to let your head guide the decision. And once you've done your due diligence, your heart—and donation—can follow.

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