On Oct. 4, the most powerful storm in a decade, Hurricane Matthew, slammed into Haiti. It hit the island nation with winds of 145 mph, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving 1.4 million people in need of assistance.
Matthew then barreled up the East Coast of the United States as a Category 3 hurricane, before finally veering out into the Atlantic last Sunday. Matthew is responsible for 34 deaths in the U.S. He pounded the shoreline with devastating winds and dumped up to 14 inches of rain across the Carolinas, resulting in record-breaking flooding over the region, with some rivers cresting just this past Friday.
When natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew strike, Americans generously rush to help with donations of money, food and clothing. Unfortunately, Matthew has also created fertile ground for low-life scammers to bilk well-intentioned donors.
Here are some guidelines to help you make sure your donations go to those in need:
• Before giving, thoroughly research charities you’re considering. The public can verify relief organizations through the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website at www.give.org or www.guidestar.org.
• Be careful of solicitations online. Scammers send spam messages and emails with bogus links to charities. Do not click on the link. Instead, investigate by doing a Google search and going directly to the charity’s website. Again, check with the third-party recommendations above.
• Verify the charity has relief sources on the ground in affected areas. Charities not having a presence may not be able to help in an immediate fashion.
• Often the quickest way to help those in need is to give monetarily. Well-meaning gifts of food, clothing, bottled water and other supplies may not be able to be transported and distributed properly.
• GoFundMe has become a popular means of helping those in need, and of this writing, has raised more than $1 million to benefit Hurricane Matthew victims. The organization is aware of the possibility that scammers will try to use GoFundMe campaigns to abuse their system. They advise that you trust and have some first-hand knowledge, such as a friend’s recommendation, before funding the campaign. If you feel you may have discovered a campaign that is bogus, GoFundMe has established a Guarantee program designed to refund up to $1,000 if the campaign is found to be fraudulent. For details go to www.gofundme.com/guarantee.
• Claims that 100 percent of the donations will go to assist the victims are a big red flag. Check further into any organization that makes this claim. Regardless of what may be claimed, every charity and relief organization has expenses and administrative costs of some kind. Scammers often use the 100 percent claim to build trust with would-be donors.
• Mobile telephones and devices are also platforms con artists use to solicit money for nonexistent relief efforts. Wireless carriers are now working with organizations such as the BBB Mobile Giving Foundation to ensure emergency relief monies collected through them are compliant with industry best practices and regulations. If you are considering donating through your mobile device, verify the campaign by visiting www.mobilegiving.org.
In the days and weeks to come, the residents of Haiti, the Caribbean, as well as the U.S. will be trying to recover from the impact of Hurricane Matthew. As in the past, generous Americans will step forward to help their fellow man. If you feel you would like to help, we applaud you, but please use these tips to make sure your donations will actually reach those intended.
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.