Charity and Sales Scams

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School in March 2017.

Some people try to trick you into donating money to a fake charity or cheat you when you buy something.  

Charity scams[edit]

A charity scam is when someone asks you to make a donation to a fake charity or pretends to be from a real charity.

They might approach you on the street, at your door, over the phone or on the internet. If they’re collecting money for a fake charity, often the name will be similar to a legitimate and respected charity. Some will say their charity helps police, firefighters, children with cancer, or some other worthy cause. Some try to take advantage of a recent natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood.

Fake charities will typically try to pressure you to give a donation on the spot. If you do not want to donate any money, you don’t have to. Simply ignore the email or letter, hang up the phone, or say “No thanks, I’m not interested” to the person at your door.  

Free trial scams[edit]

Ads for free trial scams promote any number of things - a miracle vitamin, a teeth whitener, a set of kitchen knives - by inviting you to try out the product for free or for a very low cost (such as if you cover the shipping and handling charges).

What they don’t tell you is that when you sign up for the free trial, you may be signing a membership, subscription or service contract that allows the company to charge fees to credit cards.

Some “free trials” disguise the true nature of their offer, hiding the terms and conditions in small print or using pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting online. Often, they automatically enrol you in a club or subscription.

Door-to-door scams[edit]

Some people rely on old-fashioned techniques to try deceiving you. In a door-to-door scam, someone knocks on your door and offers a product or service, but their true goal is to steal from you. They will typically do this by convincing you to pay cash up-front for a service that is never provided. The service might be roofing your home, pruning your trees, or installing a security system.

If they actually perform the work, it will typically be substandard and there will be no way to contact them later. Their bill will often include items you did not agree to, and their "money-back guarantee" will be worthless.

Under BC law, if you sign a contract at your door, it is called a direct sales contract. The contract must contain a detailed description of the goods and services to be provided, an itemized purchase price, a notice of your cancellation rights, and many other details. You can cancel the contract by giving notice to the company within 10 days after receiving the contract. You don’t have to have any reason for cancelling.   

Preventing problems[edit]

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Here are ways to reduce the risk of being the victim of a charity or sales scam.

Never pay at the door[edit]

Never give money or credit card information at the door. Take the time to do some research first.

Research the company[edit]

Ask for written information to be sent to you about the charity or company. Contact the Better Business Bureau to find out what they know of the charity or company (see the "Where to Get Help" section for contact details). See what other people are saying about them by searching online for the name of the organization and the word "reviews" or "complaints".

Make sure you understand the offer[edit]

Take the time to understand all the terms and conditions and costs involved before making a purchase or donation.

Protect your personal information[edit]

Don’t give out your credit or debit card information unless you are certain the company or charity is genuine.

Read your statements[edit]

Read your bank and credit card statements. That way you'll know right away if you're being charged for something you didn't authorize.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International LicenceScams to Avoid © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.