By Terence Stewart
Heartbreaking images of starving children and dead bodies being pulled from rubble have compelled many Americans to donate time and money to Haiti relief charities.
But before you pull out your wallet to make a contribution, the Better Business Bureau says you should be ware of Haiti relief scams.
Right after the first earthquake struck Haiti, fraudulent fundraisers began popping up all over the Internet on websites such as Craigslist and Facebook. To protect its users, Facebook administrators immediately put the following warning on their blog: “Beware of scams and hoaxes and ensure that your donations for Haiti get to the right places. Contrary to a current meme, Facebook is not donating $1 for statuses…”
Although there haven’t been any reports of scams relying on text message donations, the BBB says potential donators should still use caution. More than $3 million dollars have been raised through text message donations, which means many people could fall victim to a possible text message scam.
“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, you can count on the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities,” said Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, who was quoted in a press release.
In 2005, for example, the FBI was forced to create the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force because it was suspicious of thousands of Web sites seeking money to help hurricane victims.
Consumer protection agencies say it’s easy for donors to fall victim to a charity scam because the charity’s name, Web site and e-mail address sound and look like a legitimate charity.
To avoid becoming the next victim, the FBI and BBB says donators should take the following precautions:
• Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
• Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
• Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
• Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
• Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
• Be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, text donations can take anywhere from 30-90 days to be transferred to the designated charity. If you would like the donation to be received immediately by the charity, you can give online through the charity Web site, 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 Web site so you can see what you’re signing up and how you can opt out.