The news that actor Robin Williams took his own life on Monday has struck a chord with millions of fans and many people have spent the week asking themselves why someone who made so many people laugh and seemed to be filled with an overwhelming, effervescing joy could fall into the grips of depression to the point of suicide. 

After hearing the news and wondering what we could do to help the prevent such a thing from happening again, many of us turned to support charity organizations affiliated with depression and suicide prevention. As the situation has unfolded, the ITRC has become concerned that people who are trying to have a positive impact on this tragedy may become vulnerable to charity scams. 

Many people may feel that by helping to prevent the next suicide they can make that positive impact.  And this is true – but we need to ensure that this goodwill is pointed towards legitimate charities, not imposters pretending to provide suicide prevention, counseling and resources to those in need. 

It’s important to remember that individual donors are not the only ones that are affected by these scams.  Legitimate organizations, which are often in great need of funding to provide their services, are victims too.  When donors are scammed, the money that went into the pocket of thief  is money that didn’t help a legitimate charity to continue to meet its mission. 

It’s tempting to react immediately and give information over the phone, or respond to that text message.  But when it comes to charitable giving we always say, don’t let the charity choose you – you choose the charity. Below you will find tips on how to avoid a charity scam.

Charitable organizations

  • Before you donate, do some research on the company you are donating to. Look them up with the Better Business Bureau or your state’s Attorney General’s office. Also, many news stations keep a public list of known charities who are participating in the relief effort on their websites. If you are looking for a place to donate to, these lists might be a good place to start.


  • If you are donating online make sure you are on the actual charity’s website. Do not trust links from other sites. 
  • Be on the lookout for sites that look like a reputable charity’s site. Scam artists make sites look like real sites in order to trick potential victims. Make sure the URL is the correct one before you donate.
  • A charity will not ask you to give your social security number, driver’s license number or bank account information when you donate.
  •  Most reputable charities will allow you to donate via credit card or a third party service like PayPal. They usually do not ask for a direct transfer or a Green Dot card number. If the charity you are looking to donate to asks for this information, it may be a scam.
  • Make sure the URL of the website you are on starts with https://. The “s” means that it is secure. Also, look for a picture of a padlock either at the top or the bottom of the web browser. Both of these need to be present in order to know the site is not exposed to hackers.

Phone Calls

  •  Most reputable charities do not call people asking for donations.
  •  Find out the name of the company and look them up before donating. Most reputable charities have websites and entries with the Better Business Bureau. They also usually have ways to donate online. You can tell the person on the phone that if they are a legitimate charity that you will donate through their website or the phone number listed on the site.
  •  Do not allow them to guilt you into giving information over the phone. Some scam artists will get very pushy and try to make you feel bad. Don’t give into it. It is better to be safe, than to give up your information to the wrong person.
  • Do not trust Caller ID. The numbers and the location can be changed by a computer program to whatever the caller wants it to say.

Personal Encounters

  • Many charities will set up public locations and events such as in malls, supermarket parking lots, and stadiums to help encourage people to donate. They may also go door to door.  Thieves have been known to do this, too.Make sure the charity volunteer you are speaking with is from a reputable charity. Many organizations (such as the Red Cross) will advertise when and where they have events.
  • Do not feel pressured into giving.  Sometimes thieves will try to guilt people into giving money by telling sad stories or by calling them names for not donating. Do not listen.
  • A charity will never ask you to give your social security number or driver’s license number when you donate.



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