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Is the Facebook birthday fundraiser safe?

If you’re a regular on Facebook and you never miss your friends’ birthdays, you’ve probably encountered one of its major recent innovations. Back in 2017, the tech giant introduced the Facebook fundraiser tool that allows users to organize charity fundraising drives based around their own birthday.

This feature is a great way to focus attention on good causes and to encourage regular people to give money. However, despite these heart-warming features, the introduction of Facebook’s fundraiser tool has actually proved controversial.

According to Facebook, its fundraiser drives raised over $300 million between 2018 and 2019. So what do critics have against this feature?

As we’ll see, the fundraiser system is far from fool-proof in regards to screening charities, and there are good reasons to be careful when handing over payment details to Facebook. But should that deter you from donating or running fundraisers? Well… Here’s what you need to know.

Is it safe to donate via Facebook?

Let’s start off with a couple of security basics. When you make Facebook donations to a charity, you cannot (yet) use crypto that you earned by monetizing your social media data. Crypto payments might materialize in the near future, but for now, you have to rely on traditional credit card and debit card details. And this comes with some inescapable risks that are easy to lose sight of.

Americans lose vast amounts of money to cybercriminals every year, and financial data breaches are the primary cause. Annual totals vary, but generally they amount to more or less $20 billion in losses from online fraud. Much of the time, poor cybersecurity from businesses is the culprit, which enables attackers to steal confidential data and use it in phishing attacks or outright credit fraud.

However, Facebook has addressed these concerns by implementing encrypted payments and shielding financial details as much as possible. As far as we know, the tech giant hasn’t fallen victim to mass financial data leaks, unlike many other online sellers.

Is donating via Facebook safe from a cybersecurity standpoint?

Probably, yes. And no less so than paying for goods from online retailers like Amazon or using charity platforms like Just Giving. Even so, it makes sense to reduce the risk involved whenever you hand over your payment details.

To do so, try to use safe payment methods whenever possible (like prepaid cards or PayPal), and avoid using your daily cards.

Facebook donation encryption

While the first signs might be encouraging, simply knowing that Facebook has implemented “encryption” isn’t really enough of a reassurance. We need to know how strong this encryption is, what it applies to, and how Facebook would respond should attackers seek to breach its systems.

This isn’t the information that Facebook proactively volunteers. For instance, there’s no mention of encryption in Facebook’s FAQ on “Fundraising and Donations.” But we may know enough to make an informed assessment.

First off, Facebook uses dedicated secured servers to store payment data. Payment processes also use end-to-end encryption, crunching user data as soon as it’s entered into browsers, and protecting it until it reaches their servers.

When donations are processed, the charities that receive the money don’t have access to payment details, which means no information is shared with third parties. Meanwhile, an “anti-fraud team” analyzes payment patterns to detect suspicious activity, and Facebook promises to work with customers to revert any unwanted payments.

All of that sounds promising. It suggests that your payment information will be fairly secure in the event of a cyberattack. That said, there’s still room for caution. We don’t really know how Facebook would respond in the event of a data breach, and we do know that such breaches have happened in the past. For instance, in 2018 over 50 million accounts were hijacked, and a 2019 attack was even larger, exposing “hundreds of millions” of Facebook accounts.

What’s the takeaway for potential donors on Facebook?

Facebook talks a good talk on payment protection, having experienced difficulties in the past, and some users may want to give the tech giant the benefit of the doubt.

However, Facebook is vague about encryption, and data breaches have occurred with alarming regularity. It’s still wise to use safer payment methods and to keep your credit cards in your wallet.

Is Facebook reliably distributing users’ donations to charities?

If you’ve decided to donate, can you really be sure that your money will reach the charities involved?

It’s a relatively sensitive subject because when Facebook Fundraiser was announced, it came with pretty hefty fees for payment transactions. Initially, 5% of all donations were reserved as transaction fees, which didn’t seem to fit the spirit of Facebook’s project. That’s been changed, and charities now typically receive 100% of all donations. However, there are still cases where the money isn’t distributed.

This can happen when fundraisers fail to meet targets set by Facebook (usually at least $100). In those cases, the money will remain in fundraiser accounts and may be returned to donors. This means that users can’t actually be sure that when they donate, the cause will benefit. Since many fundraisers appeal to relatively small groups of friends, it’s quite common for fundraiser drives to fail.

Facebook fundraiser scams

According to TechCrunch, Facebook has a register of more than 750,000 non-profits that users can choose from. In such a massive community, quality control unavoidably fails from time to time, and scams have regularly been detected.

How do Facebook fundraiser scams work, and how can you detect them?

It’s sometimes hard to tell whether a charity is legitimate just by looking at its Facebook listing. Scammers are masters at creating very persuasive pages that effectively imitate real charities, and even experienced users struggle to tell fake from real.

1. Facebook profiles that resemble existing charities

These imitation fundraisers are the most widespread scams on the donation platform. Despite reasonably rigorous screening processes, cybercriminals can create fake Facebook profiles that resemble established charities and slip through Facebook’s filters.

When they’re set up as registered charities on the social network’s systems, there’s little to stop many people from choosing them inadvertently.

2. Scammers know how to target vulnerable Facebook users

They’re happy to create fake animal shelters, or medical research funds for terminal diseases. And Facebook provides enough tools to target potential donors who may be sympathetic.

3. Times of the year when Facebook fundraising spikes

It’s not just about birthdays. Ramadan and Pesach are times of giving for Muslims and Jews, Christmas scams are depressingly common all over the world, and natural disasters offer even more distressing opportunities for criminals to capitalize.

Recognizing scams isn’t that easy, and you need to be very careful when choosing charities:

  1. Contact charities to double check if they know their main area of focus
  2. Check for any factual mistakes or spelling errors on their pages
  3. Also Consult resources like Guidestar, which provides a listing of legitimate non-profits.

Finally, if you’re reasonably certain that a Facebook fundraiser is not what they claim to be, make sure you report them to Facebook itself. The social network won’t start investigating fundraisers until users report them, which means it’s important to use the “Report Fundraiser” option if you have any doubts.


Retha Simmons Weidner
Retha Simmons Weidner
prefix 1 year ago
I was scammed by a hacker for a st judes fundraiser
Susan Wheeler
Susan Wheeler
prefix 2 years ago
Today I went to donate to a birthday fundraiser and clicked on donate and expected to get a page asking me how much I wanted to donate and since my info was in there from last year it never asked how much. It took $60 from my account. I cant do that! I was going to donate $25. How do I get my money back? I will never donate here again!
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