As a nonprofit organization, you really don’t want the word “charity” to become linked in people’s minds with the word “scam.” But that may be the path we’re on, thanks mostly to the scammers themselves, and also to announcements like that issued by the Internal Revenue Service with its “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2013.” According to the IRS, natural disasters are prime time for the emergence of fake charities preying on the public’s urge to help.
The scammers modus operandi typically includes asking people for money via telephone or email, or setting up a fake website. Some actually claim to be working for the IRS (a move which, if the IRS wasn’t already mad enough, surely would’ve raised its ire). These “phishers” contact victims pretending to offer help with filing loss claims in order to obtain tax refunds — but are really trying to get victims’ personal financial information or Social Security numbers.
Okay, so you’re not a scam organization, but you may have a role to play after a disaster. Even organizations whose primary mission is not disaster relief may be called upon for support. Animal shelters, for example, have found their services needed to take in lost pets after major hurricanes.
What do you do to distinguish your real group from the bogus ones? Here are some suggestions:
- Make the most of your good name. If you’ve already got name recognition, make sure to display it loudly, proudly, and in large font on your website and promotional materials. That’s not only to assure people that you’re okay, but so that their eyes will recognize that something is awry when they view a slightly altered name used by a fake organization.
- After a disaster, communicate with other organizations also offering relief, and promote each other’s work on your website. You’ll gain credibility, and you’ll help isolate the fake groups from the pack.
- Also on your group’s website, encourage prospective donors to check the IRS’s search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, to make sure they’re giving only to legitimate, qualified charities such as yours. (It’s a bit of a clunky search tool, however; giving people your group’s EIN will help make sure they don’t receive pages of results.)
- Understand, when dealing with prospective donors, that they may be nervous about giving out personal financial information without assurances of who is calling or otherwise contacting them. Make sure your staff and volunteers offer them gentler options than “Your credit card number now, please,” such as asking them to go to your group’s website.
And if you notice a charity scam going on, report it, to:
- your local police or law enforcement
- local postmaster if the group is sending solicitations or invoices by U.S. mail
- the relevant state(s)’ attorney general’s office: see www.naag.org
- the relevant state’s charity office: see www.nasconet.org
- the Federal Trade Commission
- the Better Business Bureau
- the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and
- for cases of scammers posing as IRS agents, the IRS’s “Report Phishing” site.