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How to avoid charity scams

How to avoid charity scams
Fraudsters take advantage of global disasters and crises. Here's how to avoid falling victim to charity scams 
When crisis and uncertainty strike, it is all too common for fraudsters to not only capitalise on the goodwill of strangers, but also prey on the vulnerable and those who may be confused or feel pressure to financially contribute to global disasters. Scammers often use geo-political events to take advantage of good-natured people and the Turkey-Syria earthquake is an example of how scammers capitalise on these events as the aftermath continues to decimate lives in the affected regions. 

The most common types of scams include fake charities, Donation scams, money appeals, debit card fraud, and messages that ask for donations and seem entirely legitimate. James Walker, CEO of Champions of Data and independent consumer data action service, Rightly, therefore advises consumers to remain vigilant when donating to charitable causes and organisations that ask for support during times of world crisis.  

Think before you donate

Remember, it's important not to get caught up in the urgency of a situation, and still use your common sense and conduct due diligence to ensure you're donating to a legitimate organisation or fund.
"A 'donation scam' involves making elaborate but fake appeals to help fund the immediate disaster relief"
The most prevalent scam to look out for is the "donation scam", where scammers attempt to lure you in with fake and elaborate stories alongside requests for money. This will often include making emotional but fake appeals in solidarity with the people of Turkey and Syria, urging the public to help fund the immediate disaster relief or the rebuilding of infrastructure—but the money they make unfortunately only goes into the scammer’s back pocket. 

Stick to who you know

Stick to donating to disaster relief charities you know or do due diligence on any you don't. Photo: fizkes
Anyone who is unsure about a fundraising page, or the charitable efforts of an individual, should only consider donating to organisations already providing support for those affected by the Turkey-Syria earthquake, like the British Red Cross, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal, or another registered charity. This will ensure your money is going to those who really need it. 

Always do background research on charities that contact you

Donation requests from charities you don't recognise, particularly those that claim you are a past contributing member, should raise red flags. If you don't remember supporting the charity in the past, it's likely a fraudulent email. If you have donated in the past, always go directly to the charity's website and donate there, rather than rely on links from targeted emails.
"Scammers are using this crisis and the emotions that it evokes to set up spoof websites that look like GoFundMe"
Check the URL too, ensuring that is also legit. Scammers are using this crisis and the emotions that it evokes to set up spoof websites that look like those of official registered charities and fundraising sites like GoFundMe. Be extra-vigilant about donating money to GoFundMe pages.

Don’t use your debit card 

Avoid using your debit card to make donations as it is linked to your bank account. Photo: Liubomyr Vorona
First-time donors often make the mistake of donating with debit cards, which are directly linked to their bank accounts and are therefore considered a more vulnerable payment method.
Our advice is that the safest way to make a charitable donation is by credit card, or via apps like PayPal which offer additional layers of protection. Never donate in the form of gift cards or wire transfers.

Revaluate the likeliness of a situation—are your friends stuck in Syria or Turkey needing your help? 

There is also the appeal for money from someone who is stuck in a disaster-stricken country. Be particularly cautious if you receive a request from someone (even if it's a friend or family member) claiming to be stuck in an affected area who says they need help with relief items or travel costs.
"'Friends and family stuck scams' with tales of lost passports and urgent financial assistance are becoming common"
"Friends and family stuck scams" with tales of lost passports and urgent financial assistance to buy plane tickets are becoming all too common. Also, don't be fooled by the photography of them in Turkey/Syria. These days it's all too easy to create fake images so always check before you help. You should always fact-check for false information, and not take videos and social media posts at face value. 

Stay alert when helping anyone to move money out of Turkey or Syria 

Don't send any of your money to strangers, especially if they are coercing you. Photo: Sisphotograohy
Financial and banking scams are also seeing people being asked to assist in "moving money out of Turkey/Syria" under the guise of supporting those involved in the disaster but beware this could result in you being charged or even becoming implicated in money-laundering or fraudulent activities.
To ensure you avoid this type of transaction, make sure you know exactly who you are sending money to, and don’t send anything to strangers, especially if you feel coerced in any way. 

Additional top tips from James to stay safe online

James Walker, CEO of Rightly, advises on how to stay safe online
With these ever-increasing scams, how can you best stay safe online? Here are five quick things you can do: 
  1. Many people, as many as 82 per cent, reuse passwords on multiple sites. Don’t do it! You are much safer to use different passwords for each site. To help, use a '"Password Manager" app for added security 
  2. Clean up your data footprint by deleting your data from those that don't need it. Rightly Protect allows you to request data deletions to as many companies as you like for a single click and for free 
  3. Keep your software up to date. Old and outdated software is vulnerable to hackers and cybercriminals as updates keep you safe from exploitable holes in your programmes or system 
  4. Always log out of a computer. This is very important because where anyone can use a public computer when a previous user is still logged in to an account, it can leave them vulnerable  
  5. Beware of phishing attacks. Phishing is a type of attack used to steal user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers. It occurs when an attacker, masquerading as a trusted entity, dupes a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message. 

Remember...

If you have received a text you think is a scam then you can forward to 7726 or take a screenshot and send it to report@phishing.gov.uk. If you are receiving lots of unwanted phone calls or text messages you can also consider removing your details from data brokers, ensuring that you use a right to object to processing of your data.
You can learn more about this on www.right.ly to stop the sharing of your data exposing you to scams. And you can take a free training course on how to fight against scams on www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk. The more we talk about scams the more we take away the shame.  

Banner photo: rudall30
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