Hugo. Katrina. Harvey. Andrew. Sandy. These are some of the strongest, most destructive hurricanes in our recent history. Mother Nature has a habit of leaving wide paths of devastation, flooding and suffering in her wake.
Early Friday morning, Hurricane Florence roared ashore along the Carolina coast. By all indications this hurricane was, and is, a monster storm!
When natural disasters occur, Americans step forward to help those in need. If you feel called to make a donation to help the victims of Hurricane Florence, make sure the charity is legitimate and the people in need will actually benefit from your generosity. “Storm chaser” scam artists are already gearing up to take advantage of the situation.
We offer the following tips to help you decide where to direct donations to assist storm victims and their families:
1. Be very cautious about responding to email and online solicitations. It’s easy for scammers to set up bogus email accounts, sending thousands of requests for donations. If you are considering giving to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to that charity’s website. Do not respond directly to the email.
2. Be sure the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted area. The charity should have staff prepped and ready. Check the charity’s website for details about how the charity can address immediate needs.
3. Be suspicious of claims that 100 percent of donations go directly to relieve victims. Almost every charity has fundraising and administrative costs, such as fuel for vehicles, disaster supplies and food for their volunteers and staff.
4. Avoid gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. This type of donation may not be the quickest way to help those in need. Again, organizations need to have staff and infrastructure ready to distribute the aid properly.
5. When you’re thinking about giving to a specific charity, do some research. Type the charity’s name in the search box and then add words like “complaint,” “rating”, “scam” or “review” to discover how reliable the charity is.
5. Avoid the middleman. Make sure to check if the charity considered is providing direct aid or is raising money for another organization. Your donation could be more productive by giving directly to those that have a presence in the region.
6. Crowdfunding could be a trap, so be careful. Often crowdfunding sites do very little in the way of investigation of individuals posting for disaster assistance. If you do want to contribute using crowdfunding, it’s probably best you know the people you were going to give to.
7. Be aware scammers often use names that sound very much like those of real charities. Again, it pays to do your research before giving.
8. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. Even though you want to help victims as soon as possible, taking a bit of time to make a decision is not going to hurt anything. Pressuring is a commonly used scammer trick.
9. If the charity wants your donation in the form of a gift card, cash or wiring money, never give to that charity. It’s a scam!
We’ve talked a lot about researching the charity before making any donations or gifts. You can verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting give.org to access free reports that specify if a charity meets BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
Other organizations that offer reports and ratings about charitable organizations are:
• Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org)
• CharityWatch (charitywatch.org)
• GuideStar (www.guidestar.org)
A hurricane like Florence leaves thousands of devastated victims along its path. Don’t let scam artists use this disaster as their golden opportunity to siphon much-needed donations from legitimate charities.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.