Hurricane Harvey has caused devastation in parts of Texas, and Hurricane Irma is closing in on the Florida. In the wake of the severe damage done to vehicles, homes and other property, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent charities and crowdfunding campaigns.
Although giving financial assistance during emergency situations may feel like the right thing to do, scammers are not above using disasters to spread lies and trick well-meaning donors into giving money based on false pretenses.
BBB Charity Reviews let donors know whether a charity has complied with BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, 20 standards designed to show that a charity is transparent about its operations and fundraising and that it follows good governance practices. Charities that meet all standards qualify as BBB Accredited Charities.
BBB has more than 11,000 Charity Reviews, covering local as well as national nonprofit organizations.
BBB offers the following tips to potential donors:
- Rely on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or social media personalities, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. BBB offers reviews of more than 11,000 charities that indicate whether a charity complies with BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
- Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.
- Be cautious when giving online to unfamiliar charities. Be wary of spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization.
- Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address victims’ needs.
- Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middleman and give directly to charities that are working in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
- Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations may not be appropriate. Unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in refugee relief.
- Be cautious about crowdfunding. These sites do very little to check out the individuals seeking funds after a disaster, and donors may not be able to verify whether the organization or individual seeking funds is trustworthy.
- Be wary of borrowed photos. Since many fake campaigns involve “borrowing” photos and creating stories around them, your first line of defense against a crowdfunding scam is a reverse image search. Cross check any photos used in the campaign, as well as any related photos you may have found on the campaign organizer’s social media pages.
Before you do business with a charity or company, check it out at bbb.org or call toll free at 888-996-3887. Give but give wisely.