As the holidays approach, people will open their wallets to give to their favorite charities and drop donations in those familiar red kettles. This year, the typhoon in the Philippines provides added inspiration to give.
Unfortunately, the holiday season and natural disasters bring out scam artists who try to take advantage of the public during emotional times. Before doling out aid, put some thought into who’s getting your contributions.
“I cannot stress enough to do your homework, investigate before you give so your money is helping folks,” said Julie Wheeler, president of the Better Business Bureau serving Western Virginia.
The BBB evaluates national charities and allows consumers to search for information about specific organizations on its website. In the case of the Philippines, the BBB has compiled a list of 25 BBB-accredited charities that are actively participating in typhoon relief. Additional organizations can be found on Give.org, or donors can search for data on charities at BBB.org. The Better Business Bureau does not rate local charities and organizations, but local BBB offices do have some information on those smaller groups if you’re considering a donation or are suspicious of one.
“Ask them [the charities] for information; find out how they’re spending their money. If you want to help your community, you can to be sure you’re giving to an organization with a local connection,” Wheeler said. “We have a lot of great organizations in our area that do a lot of great work.”
There’s reason to be wary of organizations that spring up in the wake of natural disasters and over the holiday season. Social media, websites and fake email accounts have made it easy for scam artists to set up dummy organizations. The Internet has made it quick and easy to give to reputable organizations, but the same is true for those that are fraudulent.
Wheeler said, “Unfortunately, technology has given the crooks a brand new way to get to us.”
If someone contacts you and projects a high sense of urgency but is short on facts — mainly how and where your donation will be distributed — that is a major red flag. Often, these people will request checks, MoneyPak cards or cash, none of which can be traced. Legitimate charities won’t ask for bank account information and should have plenty of details about how the money will be used.
And don’t be fooled by an organization with a familiar name.
“Fake charities use names that sound familiar, they might just be off one word,” Wheeler explained. “They want your money now, they don’t want you to do your homework.”
When giving for natural disasters, make sure the organization has resources in the area of need or has the means to get resources there. Wheeler suggests making monetary donations, because getting goods, like water or clothing, into the area can be difficult logistically.
If you’re interested in donating provisions, Wheeler recommends calling organizations to find out what they need before donating new or used goods. The Council of Community Services (www.councilofcommunityservices.com) is a good resource to find local organizations accepting donations.