August 22, 2023

Natural disasters remind us of our shared humanity. Fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes often leave behind intense suffering, triggering an outpouring of support from people around the globe. But not everyone is genuinely interested in providing relief to those affected by such tragedies. Scammers see suffering as an opportunity to exploit the generosity of givers by redirecting funds and other resources away from those who need them most.

Here are seven tips for keeping charitable donations out of the hands (and wallets) of scammers:

  1. Stick to traceable payment methods. Gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, and cash are the preferred ways thieves accept donations. These methods are difficult to trace and rarely result in victims getting their money back. Use your credit card to make a monetary donation whenever possible since it typically offers fraud protection.
  2. Confirm the charity’s tax-exempt status. If someone claims your donation is tax-deductible, make them prove it. Ask them for the company’s Employer Identification Number and check it against the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search Tool. Their inability or unwillingness to provide this information could be a red flag.
  3. Keep personal information private. While sharing your credit card number is necessary to process a credit card transaction, there’s no need to provide additional financial details. Requests for bank account credentials, your Social Security number, or your date of birth are signs you’re dealing with a scammer. This information is not needed to process a charitable donation.
  4. Be cautious of crowdfunding requests. Social media and online platforms that let individuals share their stories of financial hardship are fertile ground for con artists. Distinguishing between an honest plea for help and a made-up tale can be tricky. Review the platform’s donation protection policy before giving money to an individual or a nonprofit listed on the website.
  5. Hang up on bogus pledge reminder calls. Some scammers will use a more subtle way to convince you to give to their fake charity. After local or national disasters, you might receive an unexpected phone call thanking you for a recent pledge. Tricksters hope you’ll automatically pay up without question. If you don’t remember making the financial commitment, end the call.
  6. Consider noncash donations. While your money is valuable, so is your time. Along with physical resources, it’s possible to support an organization with noncash contributions. Remove scammers from the equation completely by helping with clothing and canned good drives. Learn about specific volunteer needs by visiting the charity’s website.
  7. Recognize manipulative tactics. People willing to give already understand there is an unmet need the charity is trying to fill. Scammers often take advantage by doubling down on emotional language to get donors to give more money than planned. Crooks are known for using lies to guilt donors into increasing their initial donation. For example, they may offer a one-time opportunity to receive bonus entries in a raffle or sweepstakes if you give 20% more than your original pledge. 

Avoiding charity scams gives your hard-earned dollars the best chance of truly helping those in need. If you already have a specific charity you’d like to support, go directly to its website to learn how to donate. Or if you’re unsure where your money will do the most good, visit Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. These watchdog websites can help you discover legitimate organizations that are transparent about how they plan to use donated funds.

Hawaii Wildfire Charity Resources:


  • Charity Navigator – Dedicated webpage that lists vetted charities responding to Maui recovery efforts.
  • Charity Watch – Dedicated webpage of top-rated charities providing relief to those affected by the Maui wildfires.