BBB: How to give safely to communities after tragedy

04/27/2013 6:54 AM

04/27/2013 6:56 AM

You may have found yourself glued to the news broadcasts through the recent tragedies in Boston and in West, Texas, as millions of others were.

After saturation in the news coverage you may have also wanted to help.

Our need to come to the aid of hurting communities is both normal and noble at the same time. But others view such tragedies as nothing more than opportunities to scam concerned Americans out of as many dollars as possible.

Your Better Business Bureau warns that you should not be blinded by your urge to offer assistance. Scammers are at work and their schemes are numerous and nefarious.

One day after the Boston bombing, the Boston Better Business Bureau reported that a phony charity scam had come to light. According to that organization, more are likely. While that first reported scam has been shut down, others are surely out there waiting for those whose hearts are opening to the victims to also open their wallets.

According to news reports, more than $25 million has be raised to help the victims of the Boston bombings. If you are led to contribute as well, take a few minutes to first explore some of the resources available to help you give wisely.

FTC consumer alert

The Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers to be wary of appeals for aid that you may get in person, by phone or mail, by e-mail, on websites or on social networking sites.

When you are asked to make a contribution, keep these tips in mind:

• Stick with charities you already know and trust. Watch out for the ones that spring up like mushrooms after tragic events have gotten news coverage.
• If you’re called, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. Ask whom they work for and what percentage of your donation goes directly to the charity on whose behalf they are calling. Unclear answers are a red flag and may indicate you should seek another organization.
• Do not give out your personal information unless you are sure the charity is reputable. Credit card numbers and bank account numbers should be closely guarded.
• Do not send cash. There’s no record for your tax purposes and who knows whether the organization will even receive it.
• Check out the charity with the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance at BBB.org. You may also want to check Charity Navigator, Charity

Watch and GuideStar’s websites.

Many schemes

The scams that follow tragedies can take several different forms. Donation scams simply take your money and make off with it. Phishing scams use fake websites and/or social media with links to phony “donation forms” that are seeking your personal information. They may direct you to a website which downloads malware to your computer. Some fake social media accounts are set up just to acquire followers and “likes” with the intent of later selling the account.

A favorite scam for the last five years has been to send out emails and social media posts that claim to link you to sensational videos or photos of the tragic event. They are actually linking you to phishing websites and malware links.

More BBB tips

Here are some additional tips that can aid you as you seek to aid a tragedy’s victims:

• Kansas is among the 40 states that require charities and fundraiser to register with the state. Visit www.kscharitycheck.org to see if a charity is listed.
• Check whether the charity that is using a victim’s name or photograph has gotten that person’s permission.
• Use caution with any online/e-mail appeal.

Never click on links to charities or unfamiliar websites, texts or emails.

On social media you should not assume that a friend who sends you a link has checked it out.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau. She may be reached at 800-856-2417.

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