A reader: I received a phone call from someone that sounded like they were in a call center. I am not even sure who they were. They wanted me to make a contribution to help the victims of the California fires. I told them I wasn’t interested but then began to think that maybe I should help those in need. How do I know they are a worthy charity?
Action Line: Americans are very generous people. Because of that, scammers will try to appeal to that charitable attitude with unscrupulous requests for donations. You should always check out a request before you donate. Whenever there is a natural disaster, many Americans are ready and willing to help with donations of service, money, materials, etc. In these circumstances, it really makes sense to go to established charities that have experience, facilities and procedures in place to deal with these kind of tragedies.
Regardless of the type of disaster, here are some tips from BBB in case you are interested in becoming a donor:
▪ Ask if the charity raises funds from means other than telemarketing.
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▪ Ask if the caller is from an outside telemarketing firm or the charity itself. If the caller is from an outside firm, then ask if the charity will get to keep the name and address when donations are made.
▪ Resist pressure to make an “on the spot” donation decision. Legitimate charities will welcome your gift at another time.
▪ Get the name straight as some organizations raising money have similar sounding names, sometimes intentionally.
▪ If interested, you can always ask the caller to send you written information or provide the website address of the charity so you can check them out later.
▪ Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the affected areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
▪ Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or 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 giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
▪ Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
Visit Give.org to see if there is a report on the charity or request that one be developed.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.