Hello. I’m Reghan Winkler, the new Executive Director of the local Better Business Bureau. In the last column, my predecessor, Cheryl Parson, announced her retirement. I’ll be continuing her tradition of informing readers of the latest scams and business trends and practices.
Better Business Bureau has long warned that scammers love chaos. Scammers know people will be apprehensive and more apt to either protect themselves or help others that may be in danger or distress.
Americans are quick to help those subjected to violence, natural disasters, and oppression. Unfortunately, the last two weeks’ airwaves have filled with news of the fall of Afghanistan and the resulting chaos which is still ongoing at this writing. We are overwhelmed with the images of frantic U.S. citizens and Afghans trying to leave the country. We see the tragedy of desperate mothers pushing their children over barbed-wired walls. We sympathize and empathize with them and search for a way to help, no matter how small our contributions might be.
Scammers have already leaped to take advantage of this grievous situation, establishing bogus accounts on crowdfunding sites, fake charities, and other fake donation campaigns. There are also emails and social media pleas from criminals, posing as soldiers, claiming to be stuck in Afghanistan without access to their own money.
All these scenarios are designed to steal your well-intentioned money.
As in most humanitarian crises, there are well-established organizations dealing with the affected areas that rely on donated funds for much-needed supplies and rescue efforts.
So how can you ensure you don’t end up contributing to a scam or organization that may mishandle your donations? Consider these tips:
• Before sending money, do research on the organization or person you are thinking about donating to. Make sure it’s an established organization with a solid history of providing relief. If you can’t find any information about the non-profit or person prior to the event happening, consider that a huge red flag.
• Crowdfunding sources, such as GoFundMe, can be an excellent way to send money directly to a victim. However, be aware that it is very difficult for those funding organizations to reliably know the donations are going to the person the account was claiming to be set up to help. If you decide to donate this way, do so with an abundance of caution.
• Check with vetting sites, such as BBB or Charity Navigator to see if the charity you are considering is reliable. These organizations are dedicated to evaluating non-profits. They compile info on highly rated non-profits that are currently responding to “hot topics” such as the Afghan situation.
• Do an IRS Tax Exempt Organization search (https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search) to confirm the organization you are intending to donate to is registered with the IRS and donations to them are tax deductible.
• Carefully examine web addresses. Scammers often set up bogus websites using slightly different versions of the name of well-known, reliable organizations, hoping to lure people into sending money to the wrong place.
• You can also consider donating to Americares, GlobalGiving Foundation, Save The Children, or any other approved BBB Accredited Charities. The list of charities can be found at https://charityreports.bbb.org/public/accredited.aspx?bureauID=9999.
If you have any way we may help you, please call our local BBB office at 419-223-7010. We look forward to serving you.
Reghan Winkler is executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.