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How to Donate to Disasters and Avoid Scams

Posted On: September 19, 2017

How to Donate to Disasters and Avoid Scams

Hurricane season has had a brutal start with hurricanes Harvey and Irma battering the Caribbean and south and southeastern parts of the United States, especially Texas and Florida.

The disasters have brought people together, prompting them to help in whatever way they can. Unfortunately, there are a number of dishonest people who see these good intentions as an opportunity, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.

Donate, but Avoid Scams

When disaster strikes, so does the urgency that compels us to act. But, it’s important to pause for a moment and do a little research before donating money. Below are five ways you can prevent dishonest people from taking advantage of your good intentions.

  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers—ever. And once you wire money, it’s nearly impossible to get it back or get it to the right place. 

  • Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through emails. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate. So, even if you truly believe the email is authentic, take the few extra seconds to go directly to the charity’s website. That way you know for sure.

  • Make sure the charity is transparent. Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.

  • Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. This is likely a false claim. Legitimate organizations have legitimate expenses. At a minimum, they still need to cover administration costs.

  • Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your driver’s license. While it’s common for charities to request your mailing address (and safe for you to provide it), there isn’t a single reason a legitimate charity would need your Social Security number or driver’s license.

How to Choose a Charity

Now that you know how to spot a scam, it’s time to consider legitimate charities. And, it’s worth taking a moment to research them as well. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not have the resources needed to get your money to its intended recipients.

A good place to start is an unbiased, objective website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support. 

Another popular portal for charitable donations is the crowdfunding website GoFundMe, which allows people to raise money for a wide variety of circumstances. Some of the campaigns are certainly worthy causes, while others should be avoided entirely. If you spot a suspicious campaign, report it. Visitors can report to their state’s consumer protection hotline or directly to GoFundMe via its official website.

When in Doubt

It’s hard to argue with a long-standing reputation. If you’re finding it difficult to navigate the myriad of charities, these national foundations have a long history, making them a safer option when you want to help:

  • The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to people affected by disasters.
  • AmeriCares takes medicine and supplies to survivors.
  • Catholic Charities USA supports disaster response and recovery efforts that include direct assistance, rebuilding and health care services.
  • The Salvation Army provides shelter and emergency services to displaced individuals.

Monetary donations are a great and efficient way to give, but they aren’t the only way to help during disasters.  Especially if you live near the affected area, consider donating to local food banks and blood centers, which commonly ask for donations during relief efforts.

If you are able, take a moment and donate to the American Red Cross through VGM’s donation site to help those in our industry and show your support. 

If you were affected by Hurricane Harvey, or want to learn more about disaster response to protect your business for the future, check out our blog “How to Restore Your Business Aftfer a Disaster.


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