Charity Donation Schemes That Sound Real - What To Watch Out For

“Yes, that’s right ma’am. Pet Society of America.”

“And, you do what again?” I said as I placed my bag of groceries on the counter.

“Well, we save dogs and cats. You know – cute pets. You’ve heard of us - I’m sure. We also go by PSA.”

The telemarketer caught me off guard. I’d answered the call as I walked into my apartment. I was expecting my sister Sarah, but instead, I got Jack from PSA.

“Sorry, I can’t talk right now.”                                                       

“But, ma’am, your donation today can save lives!”

I switched the phone to my other ear. “I’m really not interested.” I was about to hang up.

 “Wait! Ben needs you,” he said before I could disconnect the call.

“Ben? I don’t know a Ben.”

Who was Ben? I knew a Ben back in college, but that was a long time ago. “What Ben – I mean Ben who?”

“Ben is an 8-month-old puppy. He was found outside in the cold.”

“What?” I whispered. I looked over at my dog Lucy who hadn’t noticed that I’d made it home. She’s a good dog – a chihuahua-terrier mix.  Even though Lucy’s puppy years are long behind her, I couldn’t imagine leaving her or any other dog out in the cold to fend for herself. She was just a year old when I brought her home from the shelter.

“You can help puppies like Ben. Did I mention that he was chained to a tree when the rescuers found him?”

I swallowed hard and sat down.

“Ma’am. Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“So, as I was saying. You can help Ben and his littermates…”

“Wait, he has brothers and sisters? They were found with him?” My eyes started to sting.

“Yeah – ya’ know you sound like a really nice person. You don’t want anything bad to happen to any more puppies. Your donation of $100 today can help save Ben and…”

“How does the money help puppies like Ben?”

“Well, uh, you know. We – um – I mean the rescuers have to pay for gas to locate the puppies and that type of stuff.”

I looked over at Lucy now playing with her chew toy. “How much is the minimum donation?”

“$100. The sooner we get the donation, the more lives we can save.”

He was right. I’d heard on the news about people neglecting animals. The money to help those fur babies had to come from somewhere.

“All we need you to do is overnight us some gift cards to help pay for gas. This would be a huge help since our rescuers travel all over and don’t like to carry cash. We need you to do it today.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Each day you wait we lose other puppies like Ben.”

I couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat.

“Where do I send it?”

I scribbled the address on a notepad.

“So, you’ll send the gift cards today, right?” he asked.

“Yes, I’ll put them in the mail today.”

“Good,” he sighed. “Ben and his friends really appreciate it.”

“Do you have a website I can share? I have some coworkers who are animal lovers. I bet they’d want to help too.”

“Well, actually – yes, we do. It’s But, I have to talk to your co-workers if they want to donate. We don’t accept online donations. It helps keep costs down.”

“Okay. I’ll be sure to share your information.”

When I went to show my co-workers the website the following week, it didn’t exist. I had a feeling that Ben and puppies like him would not be helped with my donation.


Since the telemarketer convinced his victim to purchase gift cards and mail them to the scammers, it’s unlikely that she’ll get her money back since gift cards are nearly impossible to trace. By playing on her emotions and getting her to act quickly, they obtained the gift cards and disappeared.

You can avoid becoming a charity scam victim by following these tips:

  • Confirm the legitimacy of a charitable organization at or Charity Navigator.
  • Send your donation via traceable means, e.g., personal check or credit card. Do not make contributions using gift cards, cash, wire or ACH transfers since these methods make it hard to track down the scammers. Just because its traceable doesn’t mean you will get your money back if it’s a fraudulent charity. Do your homework and thoroughly research who you donate to.
  • Stop communication if the caller pressures you to donate immediately.
  • Even though websites may look professional, avoid charity websites that end in “.com.” Most reputable non-profit or not-for-profit charitable organizations have sites that end in “.org.”
  • Skip entering credit card information on websites that are not secure. The donation page must have a URL that begins with “ https://” which indicates that the site is secure and data entered will be encrypted. If the “s” is missing, then the site is not secure.
  • Delete unsolicited charity emails that contain attachments or hyperlinks. Fraudsters count on you to click on them which results in a virus being downloaded to your computer. Once downloaded, they can use the virus to access your personal information.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission and your state attorney general’s office.