Fraud & Scams

Watch Out for Recurring Donations You Didn’t Intend to Make

Cameron Huddleston
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Cameron Huddleston
  •  
May 5, 2022
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Watch Out for Recurring Donations You Didn’t Intend to Make

The next time you fill out a form to make a donation to a political campaign or charitable organization, read the fine print carefully to make sure you’re not committing to give more than you think. That’s because some donors have found themselves signed up for recurring donations they didn’t intend to make.

Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party were forced to issue millions of dollars in refunds to donors who were opted into recurring donations with pre-checked boxes that authorized weekly withdrawals unless they unchecked the box. The Federal Election Committee voted unanimously in May 2021 to recommend that Congress ban campaigns from using such tactics. And Senate Democrats introduced legislation to ban pre-checked boxes for recurring political donation.

Despite a push to stop the practice, there are reports of candidates still using pre-checked boxes in their fundraising campaigns. So it’s important to be aware of this practice if you plan to make any donations.

What are recurring donations?

It’s common for fundraising campaigns to ask donors if they want to turn a one-time contribution into a sustaining gift. To do so, donors must authorize the organization to debit their checking account or charge a credit card on a regular basis. 

The problem arises when donors are essentially tricked into making recurring contributions, as they were during the 2020 presidential campaign. Online donation platforms for both the Republican and Democratic parties—WinRed and ActBlue—used pre-checked boxes for recurring donations on online donation forms, according to The NonProfit Times. It was up to donors to notice buttons or boxes for recurring donations that were already checked and to select a one-time donation instead. Because many didn't notice the pre-checked boxes or read the fine print, they unintentionally agreed to recurring donations.

[ Read: How to Report a Fraudulent Charge ]

How to prevent recurring donations

Before submitting a donation form online or by mail, read the fine print. Make sure there aren’t any boxes checked authorizing recurring donations if you want to only make a one-time contribution. If you make a donation over the phone and provide a debit or credit card number, ask the representative to confirm the amount that you agreed to donate and that you are making a one-time gift.

Once you make a donation, review any statements the organization sends you about the contribution you made. Make sure they state that you made a one-time contribution, if that’s what you intended. If you make a donation online, you’ll likely see a pop-up on the screen specifying the amount and whether your donation is recurring or a one-time gift.

Also, check your bank and credit card statements or online accounts carefully to ensure that you’re not automatically being charged each month. Using an account monitoring service such as Carefull can make this easy because it will automatically alert you if it spots recurring contributions.  

What to do if you’re signed up for unintended recurring donations

If you discover that you’ve been signed up for recurring donations that you don’t want to make, start by contacting the organization or platform through which you made the donation to ask for a refund and cancel future payments. If you have received an email receipt for an online donation, that email might include the option to edit your payment details or cancel future payments. For example, Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue provides these options in the email receipts it sends. 

Hang onto any emails or letters you receive confirming that you canceled your recurring contribution as proof in case the organization doesn’t stop automatically charging your account. If you believe an organization is using improper or illegal fundraising tactics, contact your state attorney general’s office. You also can file a complaint against nonprofit organizations that you believe are engaged in unethical activity with the IRS using Form 13909.

If you believe that you are a victim of a scam and that your money didn’t go to a legitimate cause, report the scam to your state charity regulator and to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Be prepared to provide any information you have about the scam, including the name of the organization, the contact information you have for it and details of the donation request. 

[ Keep Reading: How to Avoid Charity Scams ]

Cameron Huddleston

Cameron Huddleston

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