When large-scale disasters or tragedies hit the news, good-hearted people are often moved to try to help in any way they can. Many express this urge by donating money to relief operations, or directly to families and individuals involved. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people are always waiting to take advantage of these generous impulses to take the money for themselves.
How can you protect your money from the predators and make sure it gets to those who need it? Here are some tips:
1. Don’t respond to telephone, email, or social media solicitations
While legitimate organizations do use these methods, it is very easy for scammers to use the same techniques to pose as a real charity. If you decide to contribute, go to the website for the organization directly rather than following links in a tweet, Facebook post or email.
2. Don’t sign on for a monthly donation or other ongoing debit from your funds
Make a larger one-time donation if possible. If you need to spread out your contributions over weeks or months, make each donation separately, even if it is less convenient. This prevents scammers from gaining direct access to your accounts. One exception to this: some employers allow employees to sign up to have charitable deductions for particular organizations taken directly from each paycheck. This can be a good option because the organizations are generally large, well known, legitimate operations, and the deductions are shown on your pay stub, making it easy to keep records for tax purposes.
3. Don’t give cash
Fraudsters sometimes go door to door or approach people at places like shopping centers or transit stations. They may even have shirts and credentials touting a familiar organization, or one that sounds legitimate. However, these things are easy to fake. Also, when you give cash donations you have no proof for later tax deductions.
4. Research an organization online before hitting the donate button
There are websites that examine and rate charities based on how much of your donation goes to the actual cause, rather than for salaries and overhead for the organization. Also, some online research will help you identify groups that have sprung up overnight which may be shady. Searching the name of the organization along with terms like “scam” or “fraud” will show if others have already complained about being ripped off by a particular group.
5. Beware of solicitations on behalf of individual victims
In a tragedy like a mass shooting, the victims’ names are often well publicized and known to both swindlers and potential donors. In recent tragedies, reports have surfaced of con artists posing as relatives or friends of victims’ families, and obtaining donations supposedly for the victims, that instead went straight into the scammers’ own pockets. A legitimate outreach for an individual victim or family will be managed through a well known bank, or an attorney or financial manager whose identity can be verified. Avoid any fundraiser requesting cash donations, checks made out to the fundraiser’s own name, or wire transfer or Paypal donations.
It is a generous and decent impulse that moves people to open their wallets to help those affected by a disaster or crime. But resist that impulse for the time it takes to seek out a safer way to donate, and to verify that the fundraiser is legitimate. That way you can be sure your money is reaching those who need it, rather than predators seeking to victimize them all over again!