By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Nov. 17, 2013, at 9:59 a.m.
‘Tis the season to be scammed by bogus relief organizations. Okay, it doesn’t rhyme or even roll off the tongue, but it’s a warning some of us won’t heed before parting with some cash.
Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the most powerful storm ever to reach land. It battered the Philippines with winds of more than 200 miles per hour, killing thousands. Relief efforts were launched from around the world, as were scams laced with emotional appeals that their “charity” was the one deserving of your donation.
“Super Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief” tops the list of hot topics at the website of Charity Navigator ( www.charitynavigator.org). The organization reports on the ways many charities perform, how much of their fund-raising goes to the good works they purport to support, and even points out low-performing charities with highly paid executives. Charity Navigator lists 22 organizations that are putting donations where they’re needed to help the people of the Philippines. Charity Watch and Guidestar are similar sources of information.
Not every relief group allows donors to designate exactly where their contributions go. Some put all dollars into a general fund, and some set aside leftover donations for relief work in future disasters. If you want to donate only for typhoon relief, make sure the charity you select allows you to make that stipulation.
The outright scammers will be long on promises and vague on details. If you receive a call or solicitation by email or regular mail, watch out for these signs of a scam:
— The group is unknown or recently created, but has a name that sounds like a legit charity.
— People who reach out to you online claim to be victims; unless you know them personally, steer clear.
— Watch out for offers of prizes; real charities don’t try to bribe you with sweepstakes winnings or other freebies.
— Don’t send cash — there’s no guarantee it will get to its destination, and you’ll have no record of the donation for tax purposes.
— Never give out personal or financial information, including your bank account and credit card number, unless you are certain the charity is legitimate.
If you get a call seeking a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who the person works for and whether that firm is licensed to do business in Maine. Then ask what percentage of the funds raised goes to actual charity work. If you don’t like the answers to your questions, consider donating to another organization.
If you use social media, don’t give blindly to a group that posts emotional appeals. You still need to do your homework to make sure your charitable giving does what you want it to. Different charities work in different ways; your research can help assure that your giving goes to the needy, not the greedy.
If you plan to give online, look up your intended charity’s website. The FBI reported that 4,000 fake websites popped up after Hurricane Katrina. And don’t feel pressured by a telemarketer to make a donation. It’s your phone, and you can hang up at any time.
This newspaper wrote Friday of ways to donate through your church.
Today’s column focused on disaster relief giving, but the principles apply to all charitable donations. At this season of sharing, scammers are hard at work; don’t give them a cent.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.