Holiday Donation Scams: Fake Charities & Sob Stories

December 2nd · 3 min read

The holiday season is full of emotion and is known to bring out the empathetic nature in many of us.

Some choose to donate their time by volunteering at food shelters, some choose to open their homes to those who don't have loved-ones nearby, and some choose to give financial gifts to charities and individuals who have experienced hard times. Sadly, scammers and criminals take advantage of those with big hearts, leaving them with big losses.

Fake Charities

A fake charity scam is one where criminals either create a fake copy of a website belonging to a well-known charity or create a phony charity of their own. They create clickbait ads and send phishing emails leading unsuspecting victims to their website, where they can then steal both the payment that was intended to go to charity and the payment method used.

Sob Stories on Social Media

A sob story is a sentimental story or account intended chiefly to evoke sympathy or sadness 1 . Social media and fundraising platforms make it very simple for people to share their stories and request support. The problem comes when scammers capitalize on this and post fake heartbreaking stories asking for help. This brings out the empathetic nature of potential victims who then donate to help.

b76e10a2caf5bfb69d88cc6f007f6e5e Source: Pet Dog Fake Sob Story

There have been countless stories where fraudsters pretend to raise money to help the homeless, pets, fund an upcoming surgery or cover living expenses during recovery, but the truth later comes out that there was never a "need" for help and the fraudster used those funds to line their own pockets. With the holidays around the corner, the chances to encounter sob stories are much higher, as they intend to play on innocent people's holiday spirit.

Supporting causes you believe in is admirable, and we encourage donating and helping others. Just be careful where you send your money to ensure that your money goes to the charity or cause of your choice and not a scammer instead.

How to Avoid Fake Charities & Sob Stories:

  • Don't make donations over the phone, especially if you weren't the one who initiated the call.
  • Do your research by reading about the organization, what they do, and who is involved.
  • When mailing a check, do a quick online search to ensure that the requested mailing address matches the address of the organization.
  • Requests to transfer money overseas should raise a red flag and should never be honored if the charity headquarters isn't primarily located overseas.
  • Check your bank statements. Look for the donation transaction to ensure that it matches the charity of your choice. If you intended to make a one-time donation, make sure that the donation wasn't entered as a recurring donation instead, by checking your bank statements for the next couple of months afterward.
  • Use a browsing protection tool like Guardio that will warn you about scams and fraud sites before entering them.
  • If a person you don't know contacted you via social media or email with a sad story asking for money - ignore it. If someone you do know contacts you online to ask for help, call them on the telephone to ensure that it was really them and that their account wasn't hacked or cloned.
  • When you come across a story that touched your heart, look at the people who posted the story, the comments, and try to search for evidence that the story is true.
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  1. (2019). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/

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