Charity fraud is the act of using deception to get money from people who believe they are making donations to a charity. Often a person or a group of people will make material representations that they are a charity or part of a charity and ask prospective donors for contributions to the non-existent charity. Charity fraud not only includes fictitious charities but also deceitful business acts. Deceitful business acts include businesses accepting donations and not using the money for its intended purposes, or soliciting funds under the pretense of need.
There are controls and laws governing charities and businesses that accept donations. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has regulations that can be found on their websites.
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides online information about avoiding charity fraud, such as fraudulent schemes that emerge in the wake of natural disasters, claiming to be providing disaster relief. The Internet Crime Complaint Center maintains a list of guidelines to avoid charity fraud when making a donation.
It is advised that people should follow certain guidelines when they donate and that they should consult a list such as the one on the BBB's website. This list includes the participants in the BBB Wise Giving Alliance's National Charity Seal Program. Participants have met standards for charity accountability and may, for a fee, display the seal logo on their websites as well as any other printed documents.
Charity fraud is distinguished from badge charity in which the charity does exist, but an inordinate percentage the funds donated are absorbed by professional fundraisers and operating expenses of the charity rather than the causes described in solicitations.