Donate your money to charities, not criminals, this Christmas

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Donors beware!

The vast majority of fundraising appeals and collections are genuine, but criminals are known to have set up fake charities, or even impersonate well-known charitable organisations, to deceive victims. The Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator discovered that less than half of people that give to charity usually make checks before donating. Figures from Action Fraud show that almost £350,000 of charitable donations ended up in the pockets of criminals over the festive period last year. 

Helen Stephenson CBE, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, said: “Christmas is always a time of generous charitable giving, and that’s to be celebrated. This year it comes as charities face immense financial strain after heroic efforts to support some of society’s most vulnerable people through the pandemic. This means it’s more important than ever to ensure that when we reach into our pockets, our festive contributions don’t go astray. That’s why we’re urging everyone to give with their head as well as their heart and check before they give.” 

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said: “Charities do incredibly important work, helping those in greatest need, especially at this time of year. Unfortunately, criminals will try to abuse the generosity and goodwill of others and this can have a huge financial impact on charities and the good causes they support.” 

The public are urged, therefore, to follow some simple steps to ensure they have a fraud-free Christmas, by following this advice. 

  • Make sure the charity is genuine before giving any financial information. Look for the registered charity number on their website. Check the charity name and registration number here
  • You can also check if a charity is registered with the Fundraising Regulator here. All charities registered there have made a commitment to good fundraising practice 
  • If approached by a collector on the street or at your door, ask to see the collector’s ID badge. You can check whether the collector has a licence to fundraise with the local authority, or has the consent of the site owner 
  • Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails, and don’t respond to unsolicited messages and phone calls that ask for your personal or financial details  
  • To donate online, type in the address of the charity website yourself rather than clicking on a link.  
  • Be cautious when donating to an online fundraising page. Fake fundraising pages are often badly written or have spelling mistakes.  
  • If you think that a fundraising appeal or collection is fake, report it to Action Fraud or call 0300 123 2040. 

This shouldn’t discourage people from donating to charities, but instead encourage them to be vigilant and know the right checks to make. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for VCSE groups and organisations in maintaining good reputations by demonstrating trust and security in the way their fundraising is presented and the platforms used. 

Charities beware! 

Donation fraud isn’t new of course. Fraud and cybercrime are sometimes targeted directly against charities.  

Back in October, the Charity Commission warned trustees as well as donors to strengthen defences, as it feared the pandemic had created more fertile ground for charity fraud. Charities had at that time reported being victims of fraud or cybercrime 645 times since the start of the pandemic in March, amounting to £3.6 million in total losses.  

The true scale of fraud against charities is believed to be much higher, as fraud is known to be under-reported. The Commission was concerned that remote working, virtual activities and sign-off processes, combined with charities’ tendencies to place goodwill and trust in individuals, make them especially vulnerable.  

Read more on this aspect of fraud here.