How to Avoid Charity Scams

Several Web sites make it easy to check whether a charity is legitimate and to find reputable ones that are doing similar work.

(Image credit: (C)2015 Igor Stevanovic, all rights reserved)

I received a phone call asking for money from a charity that says it’s helping people who lost homes in recent storms. How do I know if this charity is legitimate? --J.C., Boston

Don’t pledge money to an unknown charity over the phone or click on a link in an e-mail. Scam artists make phone calls, send e-mails and create fake Web sites posing as charities, and they often use news stories about recent disasters as their hook. Some crooks won’t just steal your money; if they get your credit card number, bank information or Social Security number, they could steal your identity.

Several Web sites make it easy to check whether a charity is legitimate and to find reputable ones that are doing similar work. Most of these sites also analyze charities’ financial situations and rate their effectiveness. Check out CharityNavigator.org (opens in new tab), the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org (opens in new tab)), CharityWatch.org (opens in new tab) and GiveWell.org (opens in new tab).

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Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.