From: Beth Forkner Moe
Executive Director, United Way
of the Greater Winona Area
Executive Director, American
Red Cross, Winona County Chapter
Our world has experienced yet another human tragedy and humanitarian crisis, with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastating Haiti’s capital city and the surrounding area just this past week. Thousands of people have died; thousands more are injured. They have little infrastructure left standing; they are lacking all the necessities of life, including shelter, medical care and even fresh water. And this in one of the poorest countries of the world, where they lack the resources to rebuild in any quick or stable fashion.
The pictures are heart-wrenching, the stories appalling. Many of us are grateful that we and our loved ones are safe. and we open our wallets and share the resources we have, to give to those who have so little. The outpouring of support has been amazing this week.
Thank goodness there are so many caring and generous people in the world; without private, public and corporate charitable contributions, disasters like the one in Haiti would be even worse than they are.
But be careful about where you’re sending your money, and who you’re sending it to. During times of disaster, there are those who prey on our good instincts in order to make a profit for themselves. Scams and fraudulent fundraising schemes are common during events such as this week’s earthquake. There are always individuals who fraudulently solicit contributions they claim are for a charitable organization or a good cause.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how you can help people in this disaster (or others) while at the same time making sure your charitable donation isn’t simply going into someone’s pocket.
Before you make any donations, make sure you:
* Know how legitimate telephone, Internet and e-mail solicitations work. Sometimes people are solicited by phone for organizations claiming to be United Way, the Red Cross or others to help with relief efforts for disaster victims. Generally, these calls are not made by these organizations, but by scammers trying to get credit card or other personal information in order to commit identity theft.
To avoid such scams, always ask any charity that is soliciting you to send you information in the mail before you make a pledge, and investigate the charity before giving. If you want to donate electronically, don’t respond to an e-mail or the website that is sent to you. Instead, find the legitimate website on your own and donate that way.
* Do not respond to any UNSOLICITED appeals, without checking out the organization. This includes making sure you don’t respond to incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
* Be skeptical of people who represent themselves as surviving victims or officials who are asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
* Verify the legitimacy of any non-profit organizations you want to help, by checking them out on Internet sites that might help in confirming the group’s existence, rather than following a purported link to the site. For example, you can check “http://www.guidestar.org” www.guidestar.org, or “http://www.irs.gov” www.irs.gov.
* NEVER give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft. If you call or contact a charity, it’s ok to share much of this information, but only if you initiate the contact.
* Be cautious about how you make your donation. Cash contributions are easily lost or stolen and do not leave donors with proof of their contribution. Always pay by check or credit card, and make your check payable to the charity. Never provide your credit card information in response to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail. Find the contact information for the charity you wish to donate to and contact it yourself. If you are donating over the Internet, enter the URL yourself instead of clicking on a link provided by someone else, and be wary if the domain name is hidden, is not familiar, or is not the same as the text of the link. Finally, always ask for a receipt for your tax records.
* Do not feel pressured by emotional appeals or urgent requests for donations. A reputable charity will appreciate your donation just as much if you take time to research the donation first. You should not feel obligated to donate to a charity that sends you unsolicited greeting cards, address labels or other unordered merchandise.
We are fortunate to live in a state and nation with generous citizens who open their hearts and wallets to charitable causes. And most charities do wonderful work and are careful stewards of the resources they receive from people and companies.
Please continue to be generous during this disaster, and throughout the year. We urge you to practice due diligence to make sure your hard-earned dollars actually go to provide services who need them the most.
(Some information in this column was provided by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and the FBI.)