Donating to a fake charity won’t help anyone but the scamster in charge.

2 minute read

With wildfires raging through western states, Hurricane Ida battering Louisiana and endless tragedies on the nightly news, it’s natural to want to donate to organizations that promise to help the victims. Meanwhile, scammers also notice, constantly coming up with new ways to get their hands on your money while making false promises about how donations will help victims who need a hand to get back on their feet, or even just make it through the day.

“Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors,” according to a recent warning from the Better Business Bureau (BBB). “In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may not be able to deliver on promised relief activities.”

Fortunately, it’s not hard to spot the signs of a donation scam or a potentially untrustworthy fundraiser, once you know what to look for. Below are five tips for avoiding tragedy and natural disaster donation scams.

Use caution with crowdfunding sites

The BBB recommends donating only to crowdfunding sites put together by people that you know and trust. While you may be touched by another person’s difficult situation and want to offer help with a donation, keep in mind that there is often no guarantee of any vetting of those who create a fundraising page asking for donations on a crowdsourcing site.

“It is always safest to contribute to individuals that you personally know,” says the BBB. “If the post claims it intends to pass along collected funds to a charity, consider cutting out the middleman and visit the charity’s website directly.”

Be wary of vague appeals

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in wanting to help victims of a natural disaster or personal tragedy that you want to donate immediately, so that money can help others. But don’t be too quick to pull out your credit card to pay online. First, find out what the charitable organization plans to do with the donations it receives. If the appeal for donations doesn’t specify how the money will be used – to help displaced victims secure temporary housing, for example – move on to a charity that spells out precisely how it plans to help the victims with received donations.

Don’t fall for “100 percent” claims

When an organization claims that “100 percent” of donations will go to help victims of a natural disaster or tragedy, that kind of big talk should give you pause. “The organization is probably still incurring administrative and fundraising expenses, even if it is using other funds to cover these costs,” says the BBB.

Use caution online

No matter how credible a link to a charity on an unfamiliar website looks, don’t click on it, warns the BBB. And the same goes for links in texts and emails asking for donations. Those links could take you to a “look-alike” website that asks you to provide personal financial information that could be used for fraud or identity theft purposes.

Donate to established organizations

While a newly created organization may be credible, your donation might go further with an established charity or other well-known organization. That’s because you can judge an established organization by its track record, but a new organization can’t be effectively evaluated, since it hasn’t been around long to prove itself. A newly-formed organization may be well-meaning, but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed,” says the BBB.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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