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2010-01-21

Haiti relief - BBB advises, ‘Do research before giving’

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In the wake of the major earthquake in Haiti, many Americans want to help with donations to relief agencies and charities working in the region.

However, as with every natural disaster, some unscrupulous people will attempt to take advantage of the public’s eagerness to help victims. Personnel with the Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal and Southwest Texas offers advice for donors to ensure their donations go to trustworthy relief efforts.

“In the face of any disaster, Americans are quick to step forward with donations to aid the victims and their families,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO. “Unfortunately, scammers will try to take advantage of the generosity of the public; that’s why it’s important to take the time to research a charity before donating to relief efforts.”

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following advice to make sure donations go to worthy charities and relief efforts:

• Before making a contribution, visit www.bbb.org/charity to view detailed reports on many of the relief organizations providing assistance.

• Think twice about donating to any charity that is inexperienced in carrying out relief efforts, but is suddenly soliciting for aid to Haiti. Although well intentioned, such organizations may not have the ability to quickly deliver aid to those in need.

• Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs.

• Do not hesitate to ask for written information that describes the charity’s program(s) and finances such as the charity’s latest annual report and financial statements.

• Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after they have fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned in solicitations.

• Do not give cash. Checks or money orders should be made out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.

• Keep an eye out for fake charities that imitate the name and style of well-known organizations in order to confuse people and potentially steal personal information such as credit card numbers.

• Don’t give in to excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a “runner” to pick up your contribution.

• Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do to address the needs of victims and their families.

• Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an e-mail solicitation.

• To help ensure your contribution is tax deductible, donations should be made to charitable organizations that are 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.

For more information on the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and to view BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM on charities across the nation, visit www.bbb.org/charity.

Additionally, many Americans are donating to the earthquake disaster in Haiti via text message for the first time. BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises donors that giving through text can be a safe and easy way to give, but it is important to use caution.

“BBB has not heard of any scams relying on text message donations so far,” said Hurt. “However, this emerging method of donating is open for exploitation by scammers.”

To donate via text messages, BBB offers the following tips:
• Confirm the number directly with the source. Consumers should double check the advertised text code directly with the charity they wish their donation to go to if they are unsure.

• Be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, text donations can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days to be transferred to the designated charity. Consumers who would like the donation to be received immediately by the charity can give online through the charity’s website, by calling the charity directly or by sending a check in the mail.

• Review the fine print. When you give to a charity through text message, you might also be signing yourself up to receive text message updates from the charity in the future. A charity should include the details of its text campaign on its website, allowing donors to see what they’re signing up for and how to opt out.

• Research the charity. Giving wisely to a charity isn’t just about making sure that the solicitation isn’t coming from scammers. Wise donors make sure their donations are going to charities that are best equipped to help in the relief efforts and will responsibly use the money for its intended purpose.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance has compiled a list of charities seeking to provide assistance in response to the earthquake in Haiti and meet BBB Standards for Charity Accountability at http://www.bbb.org/us/haiti-earthquake-relief/.

For more information on giving to charities and to check the reliability of a company, visit www.bbb.org.