Day 97 – Getting Scammed Being Charitable

We love to give. To see our gifts make a difference where needed. To know that our donations helped to relieve suffering, lift the fallen, empower the forlorn. Regardless, there are those who would take advantage of our generosity in the furtherance of their greed or vice. I love to give, to invest and to spend thriftily. I hate being “taken”.

On a personal level, during this Joyful Adventure in 100 Days of Giving, I’ve encountered a couple of bad apples myself. During my interview with a local homeless man Jimmy G. (Day 88), he informed me that a guy stationed at an adjacent exit, really owned a three story home down the road where he lived with his ex-exotic dancer partner. The same guy I had given money or CarePaks to several times.

Last week while visiting my son and family in Raleigh, I had a another, more disturbing “awakening”. My 14 year-old granddaughter and I were at Walmart picking up a few groceries when we were approached by a tearful mother with her young daughter in tow. Unable to speak English, she produced a weathered notecard that indicated she had lost her job, was broke, had no money to provide for her 5 young children. Would we please help by buying the contents of her shopping cart.

It seemed like a no brainer. She had several boxes of cereal, 2 gallons of cooking oil, some herbs and a handful of small items for babies. I figured $60 – $100 max. As we marched to the check-out lane, my grand daughter and I proceeded to the gift card rack to add a $100 to her bounty. Marie, she had indicated in broken English, maintained a tearful, solemn expression that revealed a hint of both relief and gratitude as result of our generous assistance. The half cart of her provisions were quickly scanned and re-loaded into the cart.  

Then the total was displayed. $620! I was stunned and in shock.  I numbly shuffled through the check-out process. Staggered to the awaiting van my daughter-in-law was driving. Carefully reviewing the receipt, we noticed a dozen infant related items ranging in price from $27 to $45, mostly formula.  Further online research revealed I had likely been the victim of the Walmart Baby Formula Scam. Suffice to say I was crestfallen, not so much about money ill spent as to having fallen prey to a skilled actress who preyed upon the vulnerable, giving side of my nature.  

FBI: Charity fraud schemes seek donations for organizations that do little or no work—instead, the money goes to the fake charity’s creator. While these scams can happen at any time, they are especially prevalent after high-profile disasters (like Covid). Criminals often use tragedies to exploit you and others who want to help. Charity fraud scams can come to you in many forms: emails, social media posts, crowdfunding platforms, cold calls, etc. Always use caution and do your research when you’re looking to donate to charitable causes.

AARP: Americans contributed nearly $450 billion to charity in 2019. That generosity supports many amazing organizations that put those billions to work for health care, education, environmental protection, the arts and numerous other causes. Unfortunately, it also opens a door for scammers, who capitalize on donors’ goodwill to line their pockets.

Sham charities succeed by mimicking the real thing. They create well-designed websites with deceptive names. Some operate fully outside the law; others are in fact registered nonprofits but devote little of the money they raise to the programs they promote. But with a little research and a few precautions, you can help ensure your donations go to organizations that are genuinely serving others, not helping themselves.

Check how watchdogs like Charity NavigatorCharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance rate an organization before you make a donation.