After a disaster or tragedy occurs, most people will look for ways to help those affected. In our online, connected society, it’s simple to donate money to any anyone anywhere with a click of a button.
Unfortunately, well-known incidents also bring about scammers who will try to take advantage of well-intentioned people who want their money to help the cause. Scammers sometimes use websites that look like legitimate charities to steal money or personal information. They might call on the phone and use a name that sounds like a law-enforcement agency or well-known charity to steal donations.
Today, crowdfunding sites are a common way for people to give money for all types of causes. When used properly sites like GoFundMe can help raise a lot of money quickly and efficiently for victims. But crowdfunding sites can be used just as easily for nefarious purposes. Anyone can start a fund, claim it’s for victims, and start collecting money immediately.
For people who want to donate money online, telling the good sites from the bad ones might be challenging. When you donate through a crowdfunding site, you are giving up some of your consumer protections. It’s nearly impossible to know with 100 percent certainty where your money is going every time. Here are a few tips to consider before you donate money online after a disaster or tragedy:
Look at the site closely: Before you donate any money, look closely at the site itself. Read it all the way through. Make sure words are spelled correctly and names are used properly. Your money should only go to well-organized people or businesses.
Research the organizer: Most funds should be tied to a single person or organization, often to a person’s Facebook page. Make sure you can find out exactly whom you can ask questions or get more information about how the money is being used and where it’s going.
Keep it local: If the tragedy occurs locally, make sure your money is going locally. Sending money across the country or world is not an efficient way to help your neighbors in need.
Read the reviews: Just as you would for any other transaction, read what other people write on the site. Look at reviews. See what the community is saying about this site before you give.
Take your time: If the person asking for money is legitimate, then a dollar tomorrow will be as useful as a dollar today. Legitimate victims will need help down the road and your donations might be even more effective once the initial wave of help slows down.
Pay with a credit card: Credit cards have built-in protections which allow you to dispute charges in case of fraud. If you pay with cash or debit or wire transfer, you have fewer protections in instances of fraud.
When in doubt, stick to the charities you already know and trust: Well-established charities, for example the American Red Cross, are experienced in helping the community after a disaster. Or give directly to a local non-profit or church or law-enforcement agency through their existing donation sites. You can check the California Attorney General’s website to see if a charity is registered.
If you believe you have fallen victim to a charity scam, contact the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at (800) 593-8222.