As the traditional giving season starts, Typhoon Haiyan has come center stage to command our attention.
Heart-wrenching images and news stories have made Americans anxious to contribute to relief efforts for the victims in the Philippines. Many will donate to that cause as part of their annual December charitable giving.
According to the Charity Navigator website, the average American makes 24 percent of their annual contributions to charities between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Here are some tips for those who are focusing on Typhoon Haiyan relief or other worthwhile causes over the next few weeks:
• Check out the BBB Wise Giving Alliance when considering a particular charitable organization for your gift. It is not a ranking of charities. Instead, the Alliance helps you make an informed judgment by providing objective evaluations of national charities based on 20 strict standards. Find those evaluations at give.org.
• What’s in a name? Sometimes, not much.
Copycat names for scam charities crop up after every natural disaster. The names are designed to sound like well-known organizations in an attempt to trick contributors out of their money.
Generous Americans are favorite targets for these scammers, who set up bogus websites that look legitimate, solely for the purpose of stealing your identity. Watch out for charity names that include the name of the specific disaster, as they could be startup groups with little experience or they may be questionable efforts trying to gain your trust with a title that appeals to givers.
• Sending money meets needs better than sending clothing or goods.
Except in cases where a charity says it is collecting specific items and has a distribution plan in place, sending food or other items may actually hinder the relief effort rather than help. Relief organizations usually try to purchase goods near the location of the disaster. That speeds up delivery, avoids shipping costs and gives a boost to local economies.
Contributions of money are almost always the most efficient way to help the victims.
• Good intentions don’t always translate into good results.
Inexperienced relief organizations can clog up relief efforts. If they are new to disaster relief or new to the particular nation in need of help, they will probably be less effective than those with more experience.
• Watch out for online, social media and e-mail appeals.
Individuals who represent themselves as victims can have compelling stories, but there is no guarantee those stories are true. Scammers are always trying to capitalize on disaster relief. They may come in the form of phone calls or even door-to-door solicitations. Second- and third-hand accounts of victims’ stories may also be scam attempts.
Remember that they may not be simply trying to get your money; identity theft could be the intention of the caller. For that reason, never give out private information like credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers over the phone to someone you do not know or whose legitimacy has not been verified. Ask to get everything in writing first.
• Never send cash.
If groups want cash or they request a wire transfer of money, they are almost certainly seeking to scam you. The Federal Trade Commission has warned that cash donations are not guaranteed to reach the intended victims.
Remember that you must keep a record or written communication from a charity – which includes the charity’s name – along with the date and amount of your contribution in order to deduct a cash contribution on your taxes.