Charity scams are on the rise, increasing nearly 70% since 2019, according to figures released for Scams Awareness Week, 17-21 August 2020.

ACNC Commissioner the Hon Dr Gary Johns said the rise in charity scams was concerning.

“Scamwatch provided us with the latest charity scam figures which show a significant increase, with over 1,000 charity scam reports since the beginning of this year,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in times of crisis there are people who will take advantage of Australians’ generosity by impersonating charities.”

The ACNC is supporting Scams Awareness Week run by Scamwatch, an initiative of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to raise awareness of charity scams and offer advice to charities and supporters.

Figures from Scamwatch show that charity scam reports have increased significantly in 2020. Reported scams are up nearly 70% compared to the same period in 2019, driven by charity frauds linked to the bushfire crisis.

Key statistics:

  • 1 Jan – 31 Jul 2020 Scamwatch received 1081 reports of charity scams, with losses of over $138,000.
  • 1 Jan – 31 Jul 2019 Scamwatch received 646 reports of charity scams with losses of over $277,000.
  • The higher losses in 2019 were due to several reports of large individual losses. The highest individual loss for the first seven months in 2019 was $50,000; so far in 2020 the highest loss is $30,000.
  • The substantial number of reports in 2020 is due to people reporting suspected bushfire charity scams. Fortunately, only small losses were associated with these scam reports.

Tips for safe giving

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission regulates registered charities in Australia. Charities must be registered with the ACNC to receive Commonwealth tax concessions.

  • If you want to donate to a cause, look for established and registered charities that are running verified appeals. Registered charities will appear on the ACNC Charity Register, acnc.gov.au/findacharity.
  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from a charity, you can ask to call them back. Search for the charity on the Register and use the phone number published there
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails – delete them.
  • Messages that contain spelling errors or don’t sound like other communications from a charity can be a sign that they are fake.
  • Always ask for identification from door-to-door and street fundraising collectors.
  • If you think that there is something wrong, contact the charity directly and alert them to your concerns.
  • Visit the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website for a list of known scams and information on how to avoid scams.

Charities are also being warned to protect themselves by:

  • Ensuring they have a clear contact point on their website, promotional material, or social media platforms
  • Registering with the ACNC. Donors can verify a charity by checking the ACNC Charity Register
  • Ensuring their legitimate communications have credibility (avoid typos, try to have a consistent tone – always link to a page on an official site that then goes to an external site if required.)
  • Keeping an eye out for fake websites that may be running fraudulent appeals in their name
  • If their charity is being impersonated, reporting scams to Scamwatch, any online platforms involved (such as crowdfunding sites and social media), and financial institutions if necessary
  • Listing legitimate ways to accept donations on official websites or social media channels.