BBB Scam Alert: ‘Tis the Season to Donate, and Scammers are Taking Advantage


With so many purchases during the holiday season, it can be easy to miss a fraudulent credit card charge or two – especially if it appears to be from a charity. Keep a close eye on your credit card statement this time of year.

How the scam works

You review your credit card statement and notice charitable donations that you don’t remember making. No, it’s not a memory lapse; you were a victim of credit card fraud.

These unauthorized charity charges may be part of a bigger con, which started when scammers got your credit card information. Your card details may have been shared in a scam or as part of a data breach. After getting your credit card details, scammers now need to check whether they are still valid. To do this, scammers often use charity websites to test the stolen numbers. Scammers do this because they can test with very small donations that are less likely to be disputed. When the charges go through, the scammer knows that your card details are still valid. Then, they will use your card for bigger purchases or cash advances.

One person reported to BBB Scam Tracker that after making a purchase from a questionable discount website, their debit card “was pinged for fraudulent charges ranging from $2 to $29 then finally $67 for a charity. I’ve had to cancel my debit card, order a new one and block my account.” If you notice unexpected donation charges, be sure to report them immediately. With about 20% of charitable giving happening in December, this con is particularly easy to miss during the holiday season.

How to avoid unauthorized credit card scams

  • Report any questionable charges immediately. Don’t wait until a scammer charges hundreds of dollars to your card. Contact the Fraud Department for your card issuer; you’ll be issued a new card, and your old card number will be unusable for scammers to exploit. Be sure to select a new PIN number as well.
  • Keep a close eye on charges made to your account. Regularly review your credit card statements and do not discard them. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you spot any charges that you do not recognize.
  • Protect sensitive personal information. Don’t make purchases from suspicious online businesses, and stay alert to phishing scams that claim to need your credit or debit card information. Be sure to maintain updated anti-malware software and a firewall on your computer. Only use secure browsers and shop from secure, trusted sites – while not a guarantee, check for the lock symbol in the corner and the “s” after “http” before sharing your information. Never enter payment information into a website until you are sure you’re dealing with a trustworthy business. Check for the site’s privacy and security policies; how are they protecting your information (e.g., encryption) and with whom are they sharing it?
  • Use your credit card when making online purchases. Credit cards generally offer more protection against fraud; you have the right to challenge any unauthorized charges on your account and the card issuer has an obligation to credit such unauthorized charges back to your account upon timely notice and confirmation. Any demands for payment through wire transfer or gift cards are huge red flags – just walk away. 

For more information

Read the BBB Tip: 10 steps to avoid scams.

Learn more about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to stolen credit card details. 

For additional tips on charity fraud, visit BBB’s, the standards-based charity evaluator. 

Get BBB’s tips for donors. If you’ve been the victim of a credit card scam, report it at Your report goes a long way toward building public awareness about common scam tactics.


Information courtesy of the Better Business Bureau