News & Updates


Wise Giving Wednesday: Fraud-Free Philanthropy

Dec 16, 2020

It’s the holiday season, two weeks left in the year, and a popular time to make last minute donations. While the spirit of giving is inspiring many of us to contribute, especially in these trying times, donors as well as charities should also watch out for potential pitfalls and holiday hustles that can take advantage of heartfelt generosity. Although the vast majority of charity appeals are honest and responsible, questionable solicitors see this time of year as an opportunity to deceive. Here are some examples to help avoid deceptions.

Deceptive Drop Boxes
Some families that are short on cash this season, may be thinking of helping charities in other ways, such as donating used clothing. The presence of metal bins that collect used clothing is a common sight in many retail store parking lots. But if you assume that all of them are placed by charities, think again. A report from a CBS TV station in New York found bins that were not affiliated with any charity. So, before you make a clothing donation, check out the charity named on the collection box and visit to see if there is a BBB Charity Report specifying if the organization meets the BBB Charity Standards. Also, check with your state government’s charity registration office which is usually a division of either the office of the Attorney General or the Secretary of State. About 40 of the 50 states require such charity registration. In Canada, check with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Email Compromise Fraud
You’re working from home and you receive an urgent message that appears to be from your boss asking you to get some gift cards or make some other immediate financial transaction (such as a wire transfer) to send to a designated charity contact (or some other entity). Always double-check such messages by calling your boss or sending them a separate email to verify that this request is genuine. This type of message could be something known as email compromise fraud that can take a variety of forms but is intended to get funds forwarded to a scammer. It’s a good idea to establish payment procedures that would help stop such scams, such as processes for authenticating payment requests that scammers won’t know about.

Lousy Links
Con artists are using more sophisticated techniques to get email recipients to click on links to download viruses and/or provide them with controls that can compromise computer systems. A good rule of thumb is not to click on any links in an email even if the message appears to be individually tailored for your interest. For example, just yesterday, BBB Wise Giving Alliance received an email claiming to provide a comment on a previous Wise Giving Wednesday blog and provided a link to access the remarks. Turns out clicking on the link would have downloaded a virus. Office staff should be trained to recognize phishing attempts and know how to handle them.

Phishing for a Forgery
Charities routinely are invoiced from their vendors, just like for-profit businesses. As reported in the NonProfit Times earlier this month, however, a Philadelphia hunger relief organization was scammed out of $923,533 due to a “spoof email that mimicked an invoice from a construction company.” While the organization indicated it has since implemented additional controls to prevent such a significant error, the lesson learned is that hucksters can create messages that appear in very convincing forms that can fool recipients. Internal staff procedures for validating and authorizing invoice payments can help prevent such scams.

Con Artist Calling
Like any form of fundraising, telemarketing can be used in appropriate ways to help raise charity funds but can also be an instrument of deception by con artists seeking to take advantage of a generous recipient. Some red flags to watch out for in donation calls include the claim that you previously contributed to the charity when you have no recollection of such a donation, and pressure to make an immediate contribution. Honest charities will welcome a gift later after you had the chance to find out more about the group by visiting its website and checking with outside sources such as Don’t give in to pressure to make an on-the-spot donation.

For more information, visit the resources on If you believe you have been the subject of a charity scam, visit BBB ScamTracker, and when posting, select “charity” on the entry for Type of Scam.

Video of the Week

As part of our Building Trust Video Series, we are pleased to provide a video featuring Maya Ajmera, President and CEO, Society for Science and the Public (a BBB Accredited Charity) an organization that works to expand scientific literacy, STEM education, and scientific research.  The organization also publishes Science News magazine, which includes science-related journalism, editorial content and educational products.

Recent Reports

We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to if you are interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance