A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

BBB Trends: Let logic, not emotion, drive charitable giving decisions to avoid falling victim to fraud

By Sandra Guille
Special to KyForward

National and local news broadcast horrific images of terror, tragedies, and trauma unfolding around the world. Users on social media post political rhetoric, opinions, and online outbursts – all of which should probably be reserved for in-person conversation – online for all to read. Unless everyone unplugs from the television, the radio, or the Internet, it’s hard to miss the emotional pain witnessed in photos and videos or refrain from reacting to what’s happening globally.

For the most part, people are driven to do something good or helpful when they see suffering or see others affected by a tragic event, and when this happens, they may also find an organization that aligns with their own beliefs and for which they have a strong emotional affinity. It’s during these times when the strong desire to help sometimes outweighs the logical need to stop and research the best way to help others. It’s also a time when ill-intentioned individuals strategize to take advantage of a situation.


Fraudsters purchase online advertisements pleading for monetary donations or send mass emails asking for support of an alleged charity related to a tragedy. Both of these forms of solicitation include links that redirect to a separate page. The supposed charity in the email or advertisement may have a name that sounds familiar or may have a logo that looks legitimate, but once the link is clicked and the user is redirected, there will be minimal or very general information about the charity and its values. The site will typically prompt those who followed the link to simply donate by inputting account information and/or personal data.

By the time the mistake is realized, the money is spent and the scammer is long gone to find another victim to prey upon.

Emotion and empathy are two tools a scammer will use relentlessly to attract a person’s attention, and with any luck, the person will unwittingly fall into a scammer’s trap. The scammer will make the argument the need for monetary support is real, the time to help is now, or the donations have reached an urgently low level. By using current events, the fraudster finds a way to make a tragedy into something personal. Once a personal connection is made, the commitment to help is cemented in the mind of the donor and the donor moves forward to take action.

At least 40 of the 50 states in the U.S. require charities to register with a state government agency before soliciting for charitable contributions. Canadian charities are required to register with the Canada Revenue Agency. If you don’t find the name of the charity in any of these locations, that should be a good indication it might not be legitimate.

Advocacy organizations that may have the same intentions you believe in are not tax exempt like charities. Research these groups carefully and make sure they truly do align with what you support as they can pop up overnight, fundraise for a cause, and then disappear just as quickly.

Never click on links to charities or unfamiliar websites that are sent in an email from someone you don’t know. Don’t assume the charity recommendation on social media or blogs has been properly vetted.

If the desire to help is overwhelming, take a moment to do a little research before giving any financial or personal information.

Visit bbb.org or give.org to find a charity you can trust with your donation.


Sandra Guile is the Community Outreach Specialist for BBB. She promotes BBB’s message of marketplace ethics through public speaking engagements, presentations, media relations, press releases, web content, and other written materials. Contact Sandra at (513) 639-9126 or sguile@cincinnati.bbb.org. Your BBB is located at 1 East 4th Street Suite 600 Cincinnati, Ohio 45202 – to reach the office, call (513) 421-3015.

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