Online safety / September 13, 2023

How to give online without being had

June Kinloch

June Kinloch

Project Manager II, TELUS Wise

Young man using a tablet to make an online donation with his credit card.

This summer has seen a series of devastating wildfires across Canada and in Maui. With each catastrophe, the online community has come together to help. Social media has been filled with stories and posts from celebrities, charities and community organizers calling for help and detailing where to donate.

In times like these, the best of humanity comes out. But so does the worst. New Brunswick-based cyber security expert David Shipley calls it sharking. In a June 2023 CTV News story, Shipley notes, “when there is blood in the water, criminals circle around.” He cautions people to look out for scams when supporting online fundraisers or donating online.

But how do you know what’s real and what’s not? There are few key things to look out for, so you can make sure your money and support are going to people who need it most.

Crowdfunding for good (and not so good)

Crowdfunding sites enable people to launch quick fundraising efforts. Donation campaigns are set up on a grassroots level, and support goes directly to the person organizing the campaign or someone the organizer has designated as beneficiary. Unfortunately, because crowdfunding is so easy to set up, scammers abound, especially in times of distress.

The crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, is one of the leading tools for online fundraising, especially in times of crisis. In fact, hundreds of GoFundMe Maui wildfire relief fundraisers have been set up, raising millions of dollars from people all over the world.

To help mitigate the risk of fundraising scams, GoFundMe has a sophisticated Trust and Safety program in place to offer, “secure fundraising you can count on.” The company’s Giving Guarantee protects donations worldwide and offers a full refund in the event of misrepresentation. Its process relies on machine learning and human review to keep people safe. And it has technology in place to secure payments and identity.

Tips for staying safe when donating online

With charity and donation scams on the rise, how can you support causes you care about or answer the call for help when catastrophes strike while staying protected? The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre offers some useful tips:

  • Be wary of high-pressure requests for donations. Legitimate organizations will make their pitches but respect the time you may need to decide about supporting.
  • Legitimate charities will offer information (in writing if you request it) about their mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
  • Avoid donating to any people/organizations that ask for direct payments, e-transfers, gift cards or crypto payments.
  • If you’re dealing with a charity, always ask for the registered charitable tax number and confirm legitimacy with the Canada Revenue Agency.

General online security practices also apply when considering online donations:

  • Even if you are dealing with what you think is a well-known charity, the web site could be spoofed. Be suspicious of links shared via email or social media. Check the URL carefully for anything that looks off. And if you aren’t sure, call and verify.
  • Making donations by credit card is always safer than debit or e-transfer. Most credit cards have better protections in place in case you are a victim of fraud.
  • Keep both digital and printed records of your donation confirmation for easy reference.
  • If you’re supporting a crowdfunding campaign, verify the fundraiser first or only support people you know personally.

Donating online has made supporting causes you care about much easier. It doesn’t matter if it’s your family, your community, your country or any global concern, with a few clicks of a button, you can lend your support to those in need. But like anything in our online world, bad actors have found ways to exploit people’s giving nature and desire to help. With awareness and caution, you can keep supporting causes and people that matter to you without compromising your safety or falling prey to fraudsters.

To learn more about online scams and how to avoid them, take the “Empowering you to stay safe in our digital world” online workshop.

Frauds & scams
Safe digital habits
Prevention & support
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