If you get a call asking you to give to a charity, you might be tempted to say yes without a second thought. But as with any call you get from someone asking for money out of the blue, pause and do some research to avoid fraudsters who try to take advantage of your generosity.

Unfortunately, there are for-profit companies — like American Handicapped and Disadvantaged Workers, Inc. (AHDW) — that pretend to be charitable organizations and lie about how they use donations. The FTC sued AHDW for deceiving people.

Here’s the story: AHDW’s telemarketers called and asked people to donate — either by giving money or buying overpriced household products from them. These telemarketers, often falsely claiming to be disabled themselves, implied that most of the money raised would be used to pay wages to disabled employees at the company. And as a bonus, people were told they’d get a free gift in the mail for donating.

In reality, most of the telemarketers weren’t disabled, and only a small portion of the company’s earnings were paid to AHDW’s few disabled employees. And those free gifts people got in the mail? They came with invoices, followed by harassing calls demanding payment for products people never ordered.

If you get a call about buying overpriced products to support a charity:

  • Do some research. Confirm an organization is really a charity before committing to spend extra money. That “charity” might be a for-profit company trying to trick you into overpaying for things you routinely buy. You can search for names on this list of tax-exempt organizations from the IRS, or check with the BBB or your state Attorney General.
  • Don’t pay for unordered merchandise. You can keep any gifts you get in the mail from a charitable organization that asks for contributions. If you didn’t order it, you don’t have to pay for it — even if someone sends a bill or calls you saying otherwise.

It’s legal for charities to call and ask for donations, even if your number is on the Do Not Call Registry. But it’s against the law for telemarketers to imply they’re from a charitable organization when they’re not. For more tips on spotting a charity scam, check out our article Before Giving to a Charity.

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