MILWAUKEE -- In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, many people in Wisconsin wondered how they could help. Meanwhile, officials with the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau warned of scammers ready to take advantage.
Hurricane Dorian left miles of damage in its path, destroying entire neighborhoods in the Bahamas after making landfall on the islands as a Category 5 storm. BBB officials said it's the powerful images of the destruction that scammers try to benefit from.
"It tugs at our heartstrings for sure, but before reaching out and opening up your pocketbook, you want to be able to do some research," said Lisa Schiller, BBB spokeswoman.
Schiller said fake charities become a trend every time there's a disaster.
"They’re creating fake charities, so they’ll use names that are familiar to us," said Schiller. "They might start a website that might look legitimate, and they might use a name that sounds familiar to us. It sounds like a relief organization, or has a ring to it."
Schiller said it's important to do research before donating. She also warned that you should be cautious donating to individuals through crowdfunding sites.
"Definitely make sure that if you're giving to an individual, it's someone that you know," said Schiller. "You know where that money is going. If it's a complete stranger, and we see that a lot on social media, be very careful."
Sometimes, even if someone means well, it may not be the best way to donate.
"Some people might have the right intentions," said Schiller. "They want to take donations. They want to help out, but they don't have the means or infrastructure, so if somebody starts collecting water, or food, or clothing, how are they going to transport that and distribute it?"
The BBB created a list of charities that meet their criteria for donating:
- American Humane
- American Red Cross
- Direct Relief
- Humane Society of the United States
- Heart to Heart International
- Salvation Army
- Save the Children
- World Vision
Officials with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggested donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:
- Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
- See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has skilled operations in the affected areas, it may be difficult to provide assistance quickly and effectively. See if the charity’s website or appeal clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate relief needs as well as longer-term recovery needs.
- Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or is raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Appeals for disaster-related donations should clearly state how contributions will be used.
- Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to hand out such aid properly. Donated goods may impose extra costs on a charity to cover storage and distribution, and also may not meet the most urgent needs.
- Understand crowdfunding. While there are resources like Give.org to help vet charities, it is difficult to vet individuals. If you decide to contribute to an individual via crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Also, remember that gifts to help a specific individual generally are not deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes. Remember to check the terms and conditions of the crowdfunding platform to learn how your donation might be affected.
For additional disaster giving tips visit this link at Give.org.