When a disaster strikes, most are moved to help those in need.
The first reaction is to donate items such as food and clothing, but most organizations say money (cash or gift cards) offers greater flexibility in adapting to changing demands on the ground. Depending on the tragedy, food and clothing can be a logistics nightmare as far as shipping and delivery.
Remember, the road to recovery takes time so you may also want to consider finding ways to support ongoing community rebuilding efforts.
Unfortunately, for every person genuinely moved to donate their time or money, there are countless others who see tragedy as an opportunity to scam and steal. Whether through fake websites, crowdfunding campaigns, social media blasts or emails, you can expect charity scams to pop up within hours of any disaster.
According to Consumer Reports and AARP, here are a few ways to limit your exposure to being scammed.
Dig deeper: Unless it’s an organization you’re familiar with or have previously donated to, do your research. Vet all charities through such watchdog sites such as CharityWatch.org, CharityNavigator.org, the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org or GuideStar.org. Enter the charity’s name and you’ll find out everything from their reputation to what percentage of donated funds go to those in need. Simply searching for a website on Google is not enough, as scammers can make anything look “real”. Sometimes visiting the websites can even inadvertently trigger malware.
Beware requests: Ignore any email or social media requests from random charitable organizations. Experts say these are likely phishing scams; never click on any links. Also be on the lookout for crowdfunding scams. A good rule of thumb is unless you know the recipient personally, find another way to donate.
Go local: Work with community organizations you know well, whether through your place of worship, school or even a small, local nonprofit you’ve volunteered for. Get details on exactly what they have planned and how you can help. While money is the most flexible option, donating your time, a truck to help distribute supplies, or even opening your home to foster or adopt abandoned pets, can be just as valuable.