Senior America's Information Magazine


Charity Scams and Frauds

"Charity"... even the word sound noble.  The very mention of the word brings out the best in us, softens the heart and makes us consider our own condition in light of that of others who are less fortunate.  Yet there can be a dark side to some charities and supposed charities - charity fraud

Many people, including seniors care deeply about other people and want to help in any way they can.  Where seniors are concerned, this often means that they cannot participate with the charity in any physical way and yet they have the ability to donate to charitable organizations to help others who can do the work.   Criminals often use these altruistic feelings to line their own pockets while other people skim large amounts off the top.  

The charity opener

The mail and phone calls are often used in many scams seeking donations for everything from cancer, to helping disabled veterans, to aiding injured animals, to feeding orphans in Africa, to lobbying Congress about Social Security. A typical tactic is to take a current news event such as a natural disaster or the 9/11 terrorist attacks and claim to be collecting to help people that were affected.

The charity presentation

The mailer or caller describes the charity giving examples of who they help and describing their condition or problem in extensive and hear-rendering detail. This in an attempt to soften you up and open your heart.   In many cases, the caller represents something awful that they are desperately trying to prevent and making it sound like it is all up to you.

Where to charity funds go? 

Most charities use the money they receive in some portion, to provide the services that they state.  The questions you must ask are where does the money go, in what amount, and what charity does it perform?

It may surprise you that some charities are legal charitable organizations, yet as much as 100% of the funds they get are used for administrative purposes.  These organizations often hide this fact as they know that the charitable donations they receive would come to an abrupt halt if the facts were known.

To avoid being spotted, these charities will talk about some fund that they have that has used a few dollars in the past, but they don't tell you when or how much.  Their literature will talk extensively about something they did in the past, perhaps drop big names of previous commercial contributors, but leave out any reference to what, when, or how much they do.  They often create separate funds with grandiose descriptions, but little money goes in or out of these funds. 

When cornered with the facts, these charities already have their justification for absorbing, rather than disseminating these funds.   One such common tactic is to present itself as a body that provides "public awareness".   Another is that the organization itself must hire outside companies to call and solicit contributions.  Some police benevolent funds operate this way and as much as 90% of the contributions go to this outside fundraiser.

Non-profit, tax exempt charities must typically file and then post their tax statements for public inspection if the charity receives over $25,000 per year.  These tax filings must include information about their income and where it went as well as how much their officers are paid.  

To find this information out, go to GuideStar and you can download tax forms for most tax exempt charities that operate in the United States, with the exception of churches.  You will have to sign up, but doing so is free.  Check out your charities to see what they do and where your money goes.  If they don't have a tax form on file and are not listed, you might consider whether or not the charity is legitimate.

How to Avoid It

The best thing you can do before you give to any charity is to find out how much of the money you give goes to the charitable purpose, and how much goes to the cost of fundraising and/or administration. 

Look extensively at the tax forms to make sure that you are giving to what you think you are giving and to see if it is substantially beneficial.  

Also look at the amount held in cash or liquid assets at the end of the year.  Some charities receive a great deal of money but keep it tied up.  There are sometimes legitimate reasons for doing this such as for buying property or to create a buffer if their income drops.  This is reasonable.  But consider how much money goes out of the organization and if this is not substantial, then those cash reserves are likely being held to protect the jobs of those who run the charity.

Some charity minded people develop their own annual charity-giving plan. They select charities after investigating them thoroughly. As part of the plan, they decide how much and to whom they will give each year and then say no thank you when other charities call or write during the balance of the year. This strategy allows the givers to know where their money is going and to avoid being drawn in by a phony emotional appeal.



Disclaimer:  These pages are created to inform and educate the public only.  They are not and should not be considered legal opinions or advice.  You do not and cannot have any client-attorney relationship with SeniorMag or any of its employees.  You should not act upon legal advice found on SeniorMag and are advised to seek professional counsel before taking any action based upon information found on this site. 


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