PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – People from around the country are attempting to help those impacted by the earthquake in Ecuador, but the Federal Trade Commission says scammers often prey on the outflowing of generosity following a devastating world event.
Not all urgent appeals for aid that crop up on social media, via email, by phone or by mail are from reputable organizations.
The FTC says legitimate charities often face competition from fraudsters, who either solicit for bogus charities or are not honest about how the so-called charity will use your contribution.
The Call Christina team checked with Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator, to find out which charities are reputable.
The website consists of a list of charities that have indicated they are providing aid to Ecuador. The charities have a 3 or 4 star Charity Navigator rating and allow donors to designate their donation specifically for this disaster.
Do your research:
The Better Business Bureau has a website where you can search for a specific charity to make sure it is legitimate.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance: http://www.give.org/
Charity Navigator's Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis:
Give To An Established Charity
Don't let an unscrupulous charity take advantage of your goodwill. Find a charity with a proven track record of success with dealing with the type of disaster and in the region in which the disaster occurred. Avoid fly-by-night charities created specifically to deal with the new crisis. Even well-meaning new organizations will not have the infrastructure and knowledge of the region to efficiently maximize your gift. If you do feel compelled to give to a new charity, be sure to get proof that the group is in fact a registered public charity with 501 (c) (3) status.
Designate Your Investment
Worried that your donation will go towards the charity's general operating fund or saved for a future crisis? This is a very understandable concern. Many charities do encourage donors not to designate their gifts so that the charity can decide how best to utilize the money, but depending on your confidence in the charity's ability to make that determination, you may choose to tell the charity exactly how to use your investment. By designating your gift, you'll ensure that your donation will be used as you intended. Most charities with online giving portals offer a check box feature so that you can tell the organization how to spend your contribution. If you are mailing in a check, then write a note in the memo section of the check specifying that you want your gift spent entirely on the current crisis.
Be wary of fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. Never divulge your credit card information to someone soliciting you via the phone. Instead, ask the fundraiser to send you written information about the charity they represent and do some research on your own. Once you feel comfortable with the charity, send the organization a check directly in the mail, or give through their website, thus ensuring 100% of your gift goes to the charity and not the for-profit fundraiser.
Do Not Send Supplies
Knowing that people are desperately in need of basic supplies like food, water and shelter, it is hard not to want to pack up and send a box of supplies. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if mail could get to an impacted region, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.
- Be Careful Of Email Solicitations
- Be Leery Of People That Contact You Online Claiming To Be A Victim – Unless you personally know someone in the impacted area, anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. Obviously, people affected by a large scale disaster like a earthquake, hurricane or tsunami are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.
- Delete Unsolicited Emails With Attachments - Never respond to unsolicited emails. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from the disaster. These attachments are probably viruses.
Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website
Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identity and money of generous and unsuspecting individuals. We saw this after Hurricane Katrina when the FBI reported that 4,000 sites were created to do just that. So, if you plan to give online, be sure to find the charity’s legitimate site. You can safely give on Charity Navigator’s site via our partnership with Network for Good. Alternatively, we link to each charity’s authorized site so you can give there if you prefer.
Think Before You Text
So long as you do your homework – meaning that you’ve vetted the charity and made sure that you are using the proper texting instructions- then texting can be a great way to give. Remember there may be additional costs to you to make such a gift. And it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
Consider The Nature Of The Charity’s Work
Not every charity responds to a disaster in the same way. Some provide medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short term or long term rebuilding efforts. And some will just fundraise for other nonprofits. Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work. At Charity Navigator we link to each charity’s website so that you can quickly learn more about their plans to help.
Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework
Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs can deliver heart-wrenching images and information about a disaster to our computers and phones. These often include pleas to donate. While these applications can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. You must take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit.
Do Not Expect Immediate Results, But Do Keep Tabs On What Your Donation Accomplishes
It takes time for charities to mobilize, to assess the problems that need to be addressed and to develop effective solutions. Donors need to be patient so charities will not feel pressured to plunge in and offer ineffective aid, simply to placate impatient donors. That doesn't mean donors shouldn't hold the charities accountable for delivering on their promises! Be sure to follow up with the charity in a few months to find out (a) how your donation was put to use and (b) if the organization needs additional support to complete the recovery effort.
The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. You want to find a charity with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
- Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Look alike websites resembling legitimate charitable organizations and international aid efforts may be popping up. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
- Designate the disaster. Charities may give the option to designate your giving to a specific disaster. That way, you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
- Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it and what it is. Opening attachments, even in emails that seem to be from friends or family, can install malware on your computer.
- Don't assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate or have been vetted. Research the charitable organization yourself.
- When texting to donate, first confirm the number with the source. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
- Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.