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How to Avoid Scams When Donating to Disaster Relief

Sep 16, 2020 Decorative image

The American Red Cross is currently supporting the needs of tens of thousands of people impacted by wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the South, and the pandemic across the nation. To learn more and to support their mission, click here.

With so many challenges facing our country right now, many people are looking for ways to help. Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it is important to do some research before donating money. Consider the following best practices to ensure your resources go to a legitimate charity with experience in disaster relief:

  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers. Once you wire the money, it’s more than likely you’ll never get it back.
  • Be cautious about charity suggestions in social media posts and from bloggers. Don’t assume the person recommending the charity has fully researched the organization’s credibility.
  • Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through an email. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate.
  • Ensure the charity explains on its website how it will use your money.
  • Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. That is often a false claim, as well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
  • Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your social security number or a copy of your driver’s license. However, it is common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address, and it is safe for you to provide it.

How to Choose a Charity

Even legitimate charities need to be considered with care. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not yet have the resources to get your money to its intended recipients.

Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on the Charity Navigator website. 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.

Keep in mind the other ways to provide disaster relief, ones that don’t involve monetary donations, especially if you live near the affected area. Local food banks and blood donation centers commonly ask for contributions during relief efforts.