Charity Scams

Call it a “first world problem”, but the most tedious part of staying on a boat is the daily mission to lug the previous days’ rubbish to shore. Never-mind the clanking of empty champagne bottles (“jam jars” I awkwardly tell anyone within earshot of the tinkling), but attempting to kayak while balancing a bag of rubbish on your lap is not going to win any Avon Descents.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when an entrepreneurial kid from a neighbouring boat putted up in their tender- offering to collect our trash for a small donation. We figured he was probably pocketing around $2-$5 a bag (evidently more once the rubbish runs started getting less frequent) which certainly made my childhood lemonade stand look like chump change at 25c per cup!

The Internet has become a pretty nifty resource for those needing to raise capital through the use of micro-lending – no lemonade stall necessary. Again ranking on Oprah’s best gift ideas is Kiva – a microcredit non-profit organisation that allows people throughout the world to lend money to those in developing countries. I still get a kick out of being “repaid” by my first borrower in Azerbaijan, who needed a loan of $1,925 to buy seeds and fertilizers. Of my default $25 donation, around $2 per month trickles back into my Kiva account; accompanied by an imaginary high-five to the success of my borrower- steadily making enough cash to repay his debts.

Founded in 2005, Kiva has funded a total of 940,000 loans (or $380 million) to those who would typically lack collateral, steady employment, or a credit history. Kiva joins a long list of charitable organizations that allow you conveniently donate to your favourite cause online.

Of course, there are plenty of phoneys waiting in the shadows attempting to divert your good intentions to line their own pockets. Check out the following tips to make sure your generosity makes it to those in real need.

  • Never click on an email from someone you don’t know- despite how convincing their story may be. The same way Bill Gates won’t donate money for every email forward you send, transferring money into a Nigerian bank account is a road to nowhere. Stick with the names of those you love and trust.
  • Check the small print- often charity scams operate via fake websites that look eerily similar to the actual organisation. Try Googling the charity to suss out whether the name, logo, and URL match up exactly.
  • Legitimate charities are registered at the state or territory level- contact your local consumer protection agency to check if they are the genuine deal.
  • Never pay by via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. You’ll wave good-bye to your funds, and your bank will be powerless to help you out. Any site where you use your credit card should start with “https” and contain a padlock at the bottom of your screen. Remember- no padlock, no purchase.
  • Keep your receipts in a backed up folder. You never know when you might need them, and it will take (some of) the headache out of tax time.

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  1. Karyn says:

    Add to that the Facebook scams – “My kid is sick/died so I’m setting up a charitable trust for other sick kids, please send money to my bank/paypal account”.

  2. Chris says:

    Rebecca that was a very confusing blog article. If you want to alert us to scam processes, maybe just do that.

    By titling the whole article as “Scam”, I was waiting for the sting the whole way through. You made the reader edgy or suspicious of every apart of the article.

    Now ‘Kiva’ may be tainted for people who did not bother to keep reading. I certainly expected you to say what dope Oprah was for listing it. Then you didn’t. Cos it’s real!

  3. Lynette Payne says:

    I did not find it at all confusing but then I am a long time Kiva supporter via Peter Singer rather than Oprah. I certainly read through to the end as I have had a lot of “scams” emailed through this year — not necessarily from those purporting to be charities. Last year did get caught by unauthorised use of credit card so am extra vigilant re “padlock” now.

  4. Caroline says:

    Great article! I agree that Kiva is a thoroughly worthy & satisfying cause to ‘donate’ to. It unfortunately is not a tax deduction in Austalia (yet!) but not many people know that you can actually get the money you lend back – if you ever need to. So it’s a relatively risk-free way of putting funds into circulation where they are *really* needed. In 5 years of lending via Kiva, I’ve not had a single default! And I had the priviledge last year of going out to several borrower groups last year in Samoa with the local agency’s field officers – a humbling and highly informative experience.