Tips for giving safely to charity

Charities fund much of the important work they do through generous donations from members of the public. Although most charitable fundraising is genuine, there are fraudsters who seek to take advantage of the public’s good will. Every year, significant sums of money are stolen from charities through criminal activity, so it is important you know how to identify fraud and prevent your donations from ending up in the wrong hands.

You should be alert to common fraud tactics when giving in-person or online. This will give you confidence to donate to genuine causes. You shouldn’t feel put off giving to charities – they do important work, helping those in the greatest need. Charities often have anti-fraud processes but staying vigilant will offer an extra layer of protection.

Take the following steps to make sure you are safely giving to legitimate causes

Before giving, check the charity’s name and registration number.

You can verify this with the charity regulator in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can also check if a charity is committed to good fundraising practice by looking out for the Fundraising Badge on a charity’s fundraising materials and by checking the Fundraising Regulator’s online Directory to see if a charity is registered with us. 

Be cautious about people collecting for general charitable causes.

A general cause might say that they are fundraising for ‘for local sick children’ without any other details. It is easier for fraudsters to collect money in this way as they do not need to show a connection to a specific charity. Make more enquiries about what exactly the money would be used for and by what organisation.

Giving safely on the street and on your doorstep

Check whether fundraisers are wearing a proper ID badge and that any collection tin is sealed.

Be cautious if the ID badge is photocopied or hand-written, or if tins show signs of damage. If in doubt, ask the collector for more information – a genuine fundraiser should be happy to answer questions and explain more about the work of the charity. 

Look for the charity’s name, registered charity number and a telephone number on fundraising materials.

It is a legal requirement for registered charities with an income above £10,000 a year to state it is a registered charity when fundraising on a range of materials, including websites, advertisements, and other documents such as receipts.

If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a fundraiser, check whether they have authority to collect.

A permit or license is usually required if raising money in a public place. To check whether a fundraiser is authorised to collect money in a public place, contact your local authority or, if in London, the Metropolitan police. If it is a private place, check with the owner. Collections in private places like train stations and supermarkets need the owner’s or manager’s permission. Collections in pubs need either a license or an exemption. 

Never share card details, PINs or three-digit security codes.

If you choose to support a charity through a direct debit donation, the fundraiser may ask for your 8-digit bank account number and sort code to set up the donation. However, be wary of any fundraiser that asks to see your bank card. If you have any concerns about giving your bank details, you should contact the charity to check whether they are collecting in your area. 

Look at collection bags for clothing and household goods to find out whether they are from, or delivered on behalf of, a genuine charity.

We have produced advice on what you need to know if you receive a charity bag and want to donate in this way. If in doubt, take your items to a local charity shop or official collection point. You can find your nearest charity shop using the Charity Retail Association website.

Safer giving online and over the telephone

When donating online, exercise the same caution as with any other internet transaction.

To make sure a website is secure, check for a padlock symbol in the URL bar and that the website address starts with ‘https’ rather than ‘http’. Money Helper has helpful guidance on paying safely online

Donate through a charity’s own website or through well-established fundraising platforms.

Be especially careful supporting someone’s fundraising campaign if you do not know them personally so you can be confident about where your money will go before donating. Our guidance highlights the key things you need to know about online fundraising platforms, whether you are setting up an appeal of your own or donating to an existing one. 

Be wary of contact from charities you have never heard of and do not click on links in emails from unknown senders.

Charities might contact you if you have expressed interest in donating to similar charities, but charities unknown to you should be treated with caution. You should also ignore requests to donate through a money transfer company as this is a popular scam.

If you are called by a telephone fundraiser, the number you are being called from should be an identifiable phone number.

If the number is listed as “private” or “unknown”, you should check the contact details with the charity before donating. Ask to take a phone number so that you can contact the charity directly and call them back. 

What to do after making these checks

After making these checks, if you have any concerns about the fundraising you have encountered, contact the Fundraising Regulator. If you think that a collection or appeal is illegal, report it to the police. If you think the collection is fraudulent, report it to Action Fraud.