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Experts give tips on how to avoid scams when donating to charities

Posted at 1:00 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 22:10:05-05

Thousands of people will be making donations to charitable organizations in Northeast Wisconsin and across the nation this Giving Tuesday, a prime time for scammers to take advantage of.

Misleading advertisements and faulty information sent straight to people's phone or email can trick them into believing they're donating to a legitimate cause.

“We encourage giving at this time of year. It’s fun and there’s a lot of need. But there’s also a lot of scammers out there," said said Lara Sutherlin, Administrator of Wisconsin DATCP’s Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. “When there’s a change of money and it’s pulling at your heart strings, this is where scammers love to prey. And they do a lot of damage.”

Sutherlin said people need to watch out for online pop-ups. If there's a clickable link, Sutherlin said people shouldn't click on it. Instead, they should open up a new tab and investigate the information separately.

"You may get a link that will take you to not a charity, but a fake website that's either trying to infect your computer with malware and hold you ransom to keep your financials, or to steal your money or personal identifying information," Sutherlin said.

Websites that have an 's' at the end of https:// means it's a secure site. Even so, Sutherlin said people need to research the organization they plan to donate to.

People also need to be wary of pressure.

"The scammers will want you to act on the impulse and just do it right away," said Gaurav Bansal, UW Green Bay professor of information systems. "So if you are being pushed into doing something right away, that is a red flag for me."

Bansal said being asked to pay in cash, through a gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency is another warning that something isn't right.

"These are not traceable. So that's also kind of a red flag, because why does an organization want something that's not traceable?" Bansal said.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and DATCP offer these additional tips to avoid becoming the next target of a scam:

  • If you receive a phone call, email, or text from someone asking for a donation, don't make a payment over the phone.
  • Do additional research
  • Don't share information with unknown senders
  • Watch for imposter website links or social media profiles: Check the spelling of the charity’s name on the account and website as misspelled names may signify phony organizations.
  • Ask how your donation will be used and what percentage of your donation will be used for program services
  • Ask a caller to send written material about the organization

People can also visit the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions site for a list of registered charities.