It’s naïve to think that crime doesn’t impact the third sector. In this article, I’m not referring to internal fraud, but crimes committed by the general public. Think: charity boxes being swiped from counters, fraudulent appeals for money by people claiming to have an illness, gangs impersonating genuine beggars or suspect fundraisers trying to get money out of you on your doorstep.
These things have always happened to a degree; however, according to a recent report, ‘fraud and cybercrime are at record levels’.
You wouldn’t have to be a genius to wonder why. The cost-of-living crisis is plunging many more people into poverty. Desperation can shift people’s ethics, and charities can be seen by some as easy prey, with little deterrent against crime.
The general public need to be extra vigilant about scams. Criminals are getting better at impersonating charities and their staff members, seemingly having all the correct documentation in place at first glance, i.e. photo ID and/or a registered charity number. If you were to check their credentials, you’d probably expose the scammer; however, most people would probably give the fraudster the benefit of the doubt and not want to kick up a fuss (which is what the criminals rely on). After all, morally, it takes someone with a very hard heart to steal money meant for people in genuine need and most people don’t like to think their fellow man is capable of such a thing.
When the Ukraine war began earlier this year, there was a huge number of fake appeals across the UK begging for donations. Criminals capitalised on public sympathy for the escalating situation; I think I read at the time that almost 50% of appeals seemingly on behalf of Ukraine were dishonest attempts to siphon money from the UK public.
There are things you can do to reduce the risk of donating to a scam and avoiding dishonest requests for donations…
Rather than clicking on a link or QR code given to you by a fundraiser, it’s wise to seek out the charitable organisation yourself, using Google on your device, and to donate directly, via their website. Suspect links are common and can look genuine; however, given that you could be passing over your card or account details, you need to be extra vigilant.
The third sector’s TripAdvisor
There are a few platforms that mimic the popular travel review site that centre on the conduct and validity of good causes. Check out CharityWatch or Charity Navigator to ensure that a charity asking for your cash is a bona fide organisation.
If someone is at your front door claiming to be from a certain charity, ask to verify their details before donating. Most larger charities have their team members’ identities on their website. If you’re in doubt, phone the charity in question and ask if they have a staff member of that name on their payroll. Don’t worry about appearing rude—any genuine fundraiser would much rather you feel comfortable about giving a donation.
The safest way to donate to a charity is with a credit card, as this payment method carries a certain level of protection if the transaction is later found to be a fraudulent one. Though you could dispute payments made via Paypal or those directly from your bank account/debit card, it’s less likely these would be refunded.
Online fundraising rose dramatically during the pandemic, and understandably so. This move has probably underpinned the reported rise in cybercrime within the third sector; after all, it’s difficult to get a ‘feeling’ about someone or a company when they’re behind a screen. The same principles should still apply, however—don’t click on any links provided (instead, do your own research/find your own way to the organisation’s website). Verify charities through other means, such as the review sites. Be mindful of the payment method you use to make donations.
According to a report from the Charity Commission, one in eight charities was a victim of fraud in some way during 2021. Given that the majority of UK charities are small organisations with a turnover of less than £10k, it’s unlikely that cybercrime and protecting against this are their first priorities. However, criminals know this, and they see good causes as easy targets.
It’s difficult in small charities—when you’re probably the chief, cook and bottle-washer as well as everything else—to scrutinise every communication or plea for support/collaboration, and also keep a regular check of whether fraudsters are using your charity’s details for financial gain. That said, a criminal could hold your website to ransom, infiltrate your banking practices or send you on a merry dance that leaves you out of pocket if you’re not careful.
On the flipside, there are ways you can ensure the general public, donors and funders see your cause as genuine organisation…this article explains further.
Criminals will not give you a wide berth because you’re a charity. Being mindful of this will help you protect your organisation from criminals and verify any donations you make as an individual.