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Disaster Relief Fraud: How to Donate to Charity Wisely

 

In the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast a little over a week ago, people often come together to help those in need; volunteering in clean-up and meal distribution efforts, hosting displaced victims, and donating to charitable organizations such as the Red Cross.  As a resident of New York City, I have been fortunate enough to witness, firsthand, the outpouring of compassion from people not only within the five boroughs, but from all around the country.  Food, water, supplies and money have been pouring into the hardest-hit areas, giving residents a sense of hope and knowledge they are not suffering through this tragedy alone. 

Disaster Relief FraudIt is an unfortunate truth that with every disaster, along with the incredible support, come those who seek to profit off the victims. Donating money to disaster relief is a wonderful thing to do in times like these, but it is important to be selective about where you donate.  The Boston Globe recently published an article on disaster relief scams that are cropping up as a result of Hurricane Sandy.  Luckily there are ways that you can verify the authenticity of a charitable organization before making a donation. 

Conducting a due diligence investigation on an organization before making a donation could save you from contributing to scam.  Guidestar is a free service that provides tax returns for non-profits throughout the country.  This information is valuable in that it gives you details on who is running the charity, where they are based, how much they take in each year, and most importantly, where the money is going.

While confirming the legitimacy of an organization is a must before making a contribution, equally important is understanding who is in charge.  Conducting a background check on the officers and directors of a charity can provide invaluable information such as whether or not they have a criminal record or have been involved in disaster relief fraud in the past.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) was formed in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, when disaster relief fraud ran rampant.  NCDF recommends donors consider the following before making charitable contributions:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including by clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.

  • Be cautious of individuals representing themselves as victims or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.

  • Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

  • Rather than following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by using Internet-based resources.

  • Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because those files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

  • To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

  • Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use coercive tactics.

  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

  • Avoid cash donations if possible.  Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.

  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.

  • Most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.

The NCDF also provides donors with a 24/7 hotline to report suspected disaster relief fraud.

When in doubt, asking for assistance from due diligence firms, like MSA Investigations, who have significant experience in detecting fraud, can also help protect you. 

To learn more about what MSA Investigations can do to help you avoid contributing to a disaster relief scam, please contact us.



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