$90K lost to charity scams in 2012: How to make sure you don't fall prey

by Lena Woods18 Dec 2012

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the newly established Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) are warning Australians to stay one step ahead of charity scammers and donate safely this festive season.

The ACNC commenced on December 3 and is Australia’s first independent national regulator of the not-for-profit sector. Their website has a searchable register containing details of registered charities and is a good place to start when considering donating to a worthy cause over Christmas.

ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe AM says visitors can check whether organisation they’re considering donating to are legitimate – and the service is free. Currently, all 56,000 registered charities in Australia appear on the ACNC online public Register.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says the SCAMwatch website also provides helpful information to consumers about how to recognise, avoid and report scams, including charity scams.

“If you are looking to give to a cause or those in need this festive season, make sure that your money goes to a legitimate charity and not to a scammer. Scammers like to take advantage of the busy and charitable nature of the festive season to slip under your radar. They will try anything to get your money, including pretending to work for a legitimate cause or charity or a fake one they created.”

Rickard says charity scams operate in several ways.

“You may be approached in the street or at your home by someone claiming to be collecting donations on behalf of a legitimate cause or charity, or a fictitious but authentic-sounding charity.  Charity scammers may also contact you through phone calls, fraudulent letters, spam emails or develop websites that use official-looking logos and words to make them look genuine.”

The ACCC has reportedly received hundreds of complaints this year regarding charity scams, with more than $90,000 reported lost in Australia.

“If you have been approached to make a donation, you can protect yourself by contacting the charity directly before giving. Don’t rely on a phone number or website address provided by the person who first called, visited or emailed you because they could be impersonating a legitimate charity.”

Rickard says alarm bells should ring if the person asking for money can’t or won’t give you details about the charity, such as its full name or address, or becomes defensive when you ask questions.

“Another tell-tale sign is if the collector will not give you a receipt or if the receipt they provide does not have the charity’s details on it. If you are approached out of the blue by a collector always ask to see their identification.”

Where possible, Rickard says to avoid up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer.

“It is rare to recover money sent this way. Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails - delete them. Never give out your personal, credit card or online account details unless it is a trusted source.  If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.”

You can report scams to the ACCC by visiting www.scamwatch.gov.au or by calling 1300 795 995. Stay one step ahead of scammers by following @SCAMwatch_gov on Twitter.