Donating To Charity Online

Charity appeal

Charitable giving is huge. Of all the money donated by the public each year, the internet now accounts for a significant portion of the total.

So whether you're sponsoring a friend, donating to a disaster appeal, or setting up a regular charitable payment, if you're donating online you need to be alert to the dangers. Some criminals have no moral boundaries when it comes to exploiting our generosity.

The last thing we want is to discourage charitable giving - it's a brilliant thing to do - but there are 4 main things to be aware of when donating online:


Know who you're donating to

Around the world are millions of individual charities, everything from internationally known charities like Oxfam down to local groups supporting small projects in your area. When you choose to donate it's important to know that your money is going to a genuine charity.

Our generosity can be rich pickings for fraudsters who create fake charities. Always ask yourself:

  • How did you hear about the charity? Was it from an unexpected email, a random street collector, a flyer through your door, or an advert on social media? Or was it from a more reputable source such as a TV news item or an article in a national newspaper?
  • What do the charity do? Make sure you fully understand what their aims are and where any donation would go.
  • Are you certain you've got the right charity? Many charities have extremely similar names; be careful that you're looking at the correct one. Be alert too to any scams that may try to impersonate well known charities with an intentionally confusingly similar name.

If it's a charity that you've never heard of before then always do your research first before donating - use a search engine on the internet. You could also check with the body that regulates charities in your country; do a web search for "check a charity [name of your country]", or follow these links:

You should be especially suspicious of any emails asking for donations following a disaster or terrorist attack. Fraudsters know that many people are willing to donate at such times and will often exploit the situation with a fake charity and email or social media campaign.

If you do discover a fake charity let both the police and your country's charity regulator know.

Crowdfunding sites

After any big tragedy it's common these days for crowdfunding appeals to be launched to help the victims & their families, often using websites such as GoFundMe.com or JustGiving.com.

Whilst the vast majority of campaigns on these sites are legitimate and successfully raise millions for great causes, the danger with such sites is that often anyone can set a fundraising campaign up - including fraudsters. You may think your money will reach someone in need, but it might just be lining the pocket of a criminal instead.

Before donating to a crowdfunding campaign, do your research:

  • Can you be sure of where the funds are going? Some sites, such as VirginMoneyGiving, are relatively safe as they only pay funds to registered charities. Others though will pay out directly to the fundraiser.
  • Does the story sound true? Often we get a 6th sense about something. If it seems phishy, donate your money elsewhere.
  • Who is the fundraiser? Can you find anything out about them? Can you fact check any claims they make about themselves?
  • How did you hear about the crowdfunding page? If it was through a national newspaper it's likely to be safe; it was through an unsolicited email or advert on social media then be suspicious. And just because your friend has donated already doesn't mean it's genuine!

If you're ever in doubt about who's really behind any crowdfunding campaign then donate your money elsewhere. For large disasters the main international charities will launch their own appeals - donate to them (via their websites) to be sure of where your money is going.


Check that you're visiting a genuine website

Fraudsters also know that people are more likely to donate to a charity that they have heard of - it's simply the power of branding. Because of this some fraudsters will create websites that impersonate the major charities, hoping to catch us unawares and steal our money.

These fake websites can be extremely convincing, and may make use of a web address that is so similar to the genuine charity that it's easy to believe it's legitimate. The spoofed website will then often be advertised via spam email or SMS message, or through social media - read here how to spot these.

Before clicking links in any emails you receive then first check where it's taking you. If the address looks suspicious then don't click the link!

  • Double check the address of the website: Most major charities will simply have their name as their web address, such as www.oxfam.org (note that charities often have web addresses ending in .org, although .com addresses often work too).
  • Be suspicious of any slight variations, for example the use of extra words like "online", "charity", or "appeal".
  • Watch out for poor grammar or spelling, whether in any emails you receive or on the website itself. These can be an obvious giveaway - any genuine charity website (and emails) should be professionally produced.
  • Be aware that sometimes it's only the payments page that is spoofed - other links may take you to the real website to try to convince you it's legitimate.

In fact the safest thing to do, rather than following any links from emails, is to simply type the charity's web address directly into your browser yourself. You'll often find their web address on any of their materials or literature, or try doing a web search to look for them.

If you do find any fraud happening in the name of a genuine charity then let them know; they'll want to stop it as fast as they can.


Protect your card and bank details

Never try to donate money using a money transfer service such as Moneygram or Western Union; this is a common tactic used by fraudsters as it's more difficult for them to be traced and caught.

When you're making a one-off donation the safest method is by credit card, or for regular payments then set up a direct debit.

When you make a donation online - whether it's a one-off donation or you're setting up a regular payment - you should always ensure that the payment details page is encrypted. This basically means that your bank or credit card details will be scrambled up as they're sent over the web, preventing anyone from eavesdropping on them.

Browser padlock on a secure web page

Look for the padlock symbol and 'https' in the address bar. This example screenshot was taken whilst using the Chrome browser, but you'll see similar details on all web browsers.

You can check that the connection is secure by looking for https:// at the start of the web address (the 's' stands for 'secure'), as well as a padlock symbol in the address bar. These mean that the data will be scrambled up so that it's not readable to anyone else.

If you're using a mobile phone (where there's not the screen width available to display everything) then note that some browsers may not always show the https://. Do however always make sure that a padlock is showing!

Where possible too try not to make any online donations whilst using public wifi - these can sometimes be broken by hackers to read your card details. If you can then use your mobile phone's cellular data, install a VPN ('Virtual Private Network'), or wait until you get home.


Other tips

There's some other basic tips that you should always follow too:

  • Always have up to date antivirus software running.
  • If you need to create a user account on the website then make sure you use a strong & unique password. It can be a pain remembering yet another password, so if you don't think you'll ever use this website again then you could always just type in a load of junk as the password. Should you ever find that you do need to login again then follow the password reset process.

Have any feedback on this page? Let us know - [email protected]