Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – November 2, 2012 – Natural disasters can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help those in need. Unfortunately, they can also bring out those looking to take advantage of the situation. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, your Better Business Bureau is reminding consumers to donate wisely and do their research prior to contributing to relief efforts.
“Though the ease of technology provides a convenient way to make well-meaning donations, it also creates the potential for scammers to simply pocket money through phony organizations and websites,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “With every natural disaster, we see opportunists come out of the woodworks that do not have the best intentions in mind.”
BBB offers the following tips to donors when deciding where to contribute to assist Hurricane Sally victims:
· Be cautious when giving online. Especially, take caution in response to spam messages, social media posts and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you are seeking to give to an organization involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website. Consider it a red flag if the website or organization seems to have just developed overnight in relation to the disaster.
· Do your research. Check out BBB Wise Giving Alliance to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Check with the IRS to ensure the organization is recognized as a 501(c)(3); get a better understanding of how your donation will be used; and choose an organization that has experience in the specific type of relief efforts they are claiming to undertake. Check with the Bureau of Charitable Organizations’ online database of charities as well.
· Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.
· Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
· Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and give directly to those that have a presence in the region, or at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
· Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
· Watch for red flags. Someone soliciting for a charity should know details about the organization. Be wary of solicitors who cannot or will not answer your questions. If a solicitor pressures you to donate immediately without allowing you time to research the organization, reconsider your donation. In addition, consider it a red flag if the organization is insisting on a cash donation and refuses to provide a receipt.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to donate to an unknown charity. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses and charities, visit www.bbb.org or call 877.267.5222.
About the BBB System
BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews and BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 114 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about the BBB System.