Editorial - Scammers appear when disasters strikeEveryone wants to help when disaster strikes. It’s human nature – one of the best sides of human nature. But with everything, there is a flip side, too: People who try to take advantage of other people’s misfortune. In the wake of tragedies, there are always scammers trying to turn a fast buck, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Everyone wants to help when disaster strikes.
It’s human nature – one of the best sides of human nature.
But with everything, there is a flip side, too: People who try to take advantage of other people’s misfortune. In the wake of tragedies, there are always scammers trying to turn a fast buck, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota.
It’s likely happening right now with the flooding devastation in Duluth and the destructive wildfires in Colorado.
The BBB is advising people to be sure their donations reach the intended recipients. On Thursday, it issued a warning that – as has so often occurred in similar situations – scammers and fraudulent charities will likely emerge to try and solicit donations from well-meaning individuals
“The flooding that occurred in Duluth was momentous, and the fires in Colorado have caused tremendous destruction, as well. It will require a great deal of aid and generosity to assist victims of these disasters,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “People looking to help out financially will want to be sure their donations do the maximum amount of good – and stay out of the pockets of scammers.”
The BBB offers the following tips to help donors decide where to direct donations and ensure that their money provides the most benefit to victims of these disasters:
• Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they might not have fully researched listed charities. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and verify that they meet the BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
• Find out who will benefit from the donations and what type of assistance they will be provided.
• Ask the charity where it will concentrate its efforts and what products and services it will provide to those who need assistance.
• Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist victims.
• Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a given charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will go toward assisting victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but expenses will still be incurred. Wise Giving Alliance Standards state that at least 65 percent of the funds a charity raises should go to the intended recipients.
• Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses.
• Know the facts about donating via text message. Text messaging has become a very convenient way for people to donate “on the go.” By texting a specified keyword to a short code phone number, a set charge (generally $10) is added on to a person’s cell phone bill, with the cell phone carrier, in turn, passing those funds along to the charity. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it can take up to 120 days for these funds to transfer to the charity. Donations made directly through the charity’s website have a more immediate impact.
• Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and e-mails that claim to link to a relief organization. In the past, after other disasters, the BBB was contacted by consumers with concerns about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.
• If tax deduction is a concern, use the IRS as a resource. To help ensure your contribution is tax deductible, the donation should be made to a U.S.-based charitable organization that is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Go to IRS Publication 78 on www.irs.gov for a current list of all organizations eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable gifts.
People should not let the potential for scams stop them from helping others in dire need. But by just being a bit more careful, they can still let human kindness prevail.