Donating to Charity Online

The work carried out by charities and voluntary organisations is invaluable to society, helping people in the greatest need both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Charities rely on donations from the general public and businesses to carry out their work, especially in tough economic times. Most collections and appeals are authentic and legitimate, but unfortunately fraudsters can exploit people’s charitable nature and steal money which the donor thinks is going the help the charity. One of the most common ways of doing this is online. Do not stop donating money to the good cause of your choice. Instead, take a few simple precautions to protect yourself – and your chosen charity – against online fraud.

The risks

  • Bogus charity sites – fake websites for charities that do not exist, such as temporary fraudulent websites set up during well publicised disasters (for example famines and earthquakes).
  • Phishing emails – emails sent to you attempting to trick you into disclosing your bank details and passwords.
  • Fraud resulting from making payments over unsecured web pages.
  • Identity theft caused by viruses or spyware, giving criminals access to your bank account and other personal information stored on your computer.

Donating safely

To ensure you are donating safely:

  • Visit the charity’s own website by typing the website address into the browser yourself, rather than clicking on a hyperlink embedded in an email. Check the web address online with the relevant charity regulator or by calling the charity itself.
  • Before you donate any money, check that the website you are on is secure. There should be a padlock symbol in the browser window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register. Be sure that the padlock is not on the page itself – this is a sign that the site could be  fraudulent.. The web address should begin with ‘https://’. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
  • If you receive unsolicited emails from charities you have never heard of or have no association with, do not respond and do not click on links contained in them. Report them to Action Fraud and then delete them.
  • Do not respond to requests to donate through a money transfer company such as Western Union or MoneyGram, as this is a tactic commonly used in scams.
  • Ensure that the charity is genuine before divulging personal details, or debit/credit card or online banking information. The Verified by Visa, MasterCard SecureCode and American Express SafeKey schemes all offer additional safeguards for debit/credit card payments.
  • You could consider supporting individual fundraisers by donating through websites such as JustGiving, Virgin Money Giving and MyDonate.
  • When supporting disaster relief abroad, you could consider donating via the Disasters Emergency Committee website.
  • If you are still in any doubt, a legitimate charity will happily advise you on other ways to give on their website or via a phone call.
  • If you think you may have given your account details to an impostor or bogus charity, contact your bank immediately.

To check the authenticity of a registered charity, visit the online register of your national charity regulator:

Charity Commission for England and Wales

In England and Wales, most charities with an annual income of £5,000 or more must be registered with the Commission. The Commission maintains an online register.

Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

In Scotland, all charities must be registered and an online register of charities is maintained by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).

Charity Commission for Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, charities are not yet registered, but the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland does maintain an online list of organisations deemed to be charities because they are registered with HMRC for tax purposes. This list is not exhaustive. Registration is due to commence in 2013.

You may also wish to check whether a charity is registered with The Fundraising Regulator, the independent regulator for fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

If you think you have been a victim of fraud:

Report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.


In partnership with

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


An attempt at identity theft in which criminals lead users to a counterfeit website in the hope that they will disclose private information such as user names or passwords.