Skip to main content.

Six ways to avoid scams when donating to charities

When tragedy strikes, whether in the local community or in a country across the globe, social media can become a barrage of opportunities asking for donations to the cause. But how can donors know which charity to choose without being scammed or risking their cybersecurity?

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Ragib Hasan, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Computer Science, suggests what to look for when planning to donate money virtually.

UAB’s Ragib Hasan

“During any international crisis or event, people are more interested in donating to charitable and humanitarian causes,” Hasan said. “Taking advantage of that, cybercriminals launch spam email campaigns, launch fake charity websites and also steal identities of unsuspecting donors.”

Thanks to experts educating the public, most people are more cautious about spam emails. However, during humanitarian disasters, like the one unfolding in Ukraine, people can let down their defenses in their hopes to help those in need.

“Once someone clicks on a spam link, donors can be duped into donating to a fake charity,” Hasan said. “Scammers can even imitate the website of real charities, like the Red Cross, by slightly misspelling the charity’s name on the website’s URL.”

In addition to stolen donations, also among the risks are identity theft and malware.

“Cybercriminals can steal the identities of the donors, and fake charity websites can also contain malware that will infect the browser,” Hasan said.

Ways to stay safe

Hasan suggests six ways to help ensure that your donation goes to a reputable source and keeps your information safe.

  1. Donate only to reputable and registered charities.
  2. To donate, go directly to the charity’s official website.
  3. Do not click on any donation appeals on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) or in an email.
  4. Do not open text messages on your phone or social media that request charitable donations. Even if the message seems to come from a friend, do not open such messages or links within, because they can be spoofed to appear to be from acquaintances.
  5. When donating to an organization, always verify the charity’s website. Make sure it is secure: The URL should begin with https rather than http.
  6. Follow guidelines provided by the Federal Trade Commission about verifying charities.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.