The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises potential donors to be cautious because fraudulent charities and individuals often crop up to take advantage of their sympathy for victims of natural disasters.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen time and time again that scammers will try to take advantage of the generosity of the public after a disaster,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “That’s why it’s so important to take your time and do your research before donating to relief efforts.”
The best way to help is to donate money to a reputable humanitarian organization with a history of providing assistance in disasters and other crisis situations.
When making a donation of any kind, the BBB encourages consumers to follow certain guidelines:
• Before donating, visit www.bbb.org/charity to research organizations you’re considering supporting.
• Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs.
• Ask for written information about the charity’s program(s) and finances such as the charity’s latest annual report and financial statements.
• Ask what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining once they’ve fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned in solicitations.
• Don’t give cash. Checks or money orders should be made out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.
• Beware of fake charities that imitate the name and style of well-known organizations in an attempt to confuse donors.
• Don’t give in to excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a “runner” to pick up your contribution.
• Be wary of any charity that is inexperienced in carrying out relief efforts but is suddenly soliciting for aid in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Although well intentioned, they may not be able to quickly deliver aid to those in need.
• Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
• Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do to address the needs of victims and their families.
• Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.
• Don’t give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an e-mail solicitation.
• Make sure your contribution is tax deductible: donations should be made to charitable organizations that are tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Go to Publication 526 on the IRS’ website for a current list of all organizations eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable gifts.
• In-kind drives for food and clothing – while well intentioned – may not necessarily be the best way to help those in need, unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
Also, donors should be wary of any emails, texts, or social media posts that try to convince you to click a link to find out more information. In some cases, those can result in malicious downloads on to a computer or other device.
For more tips, visit www.bbb.org/chicago, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or add us on Pinterest.
The BBB is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. It is supported by businesses to protect consumers against scams and other unethical business practices. The group accomplishes this by educating both consumers and businesses, and by highlighting trustworthy businesses. By developing reports and ratings on businesses and charitable organizations, the BBB encourages people to use these as resources and referrals to utilize the free services before making a purchase or donation. The BBB helps resolve buyer/seller complaints through its alternative dispute resolution process. In 2014, the BBB provided more than 13,700,000 instances of service. Over 78 percent of consumer complaints to the BBB were resolved. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois is a member of the international BBB system that services the United States, Canada and Mexico.