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BBB offers the following tips to help people decide where to direct donations to assist survivors of a disaster and their families, and how survivors can find reliable charities for aid:

Be cautious when giving online. Be careful about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you are seeking to make a donation to a charitable organization involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be careful when relying on third-party recommendations from bloggers or other websites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. Verify with your local and state agency that a charity is required to be registered and check with BBB at bbb.org or give.org.

If a charity claims that 100 percent of donations will assist the victims, do your research to verify that assertion. For donations given to help the victims impacted by a specific disaster, some charities do give 100% of the collected funds to the relief effort. They are able to do this by using other resources allocated in their budget to pay the fundraising and administrative expenses incurred in an emergency fund raising effort. Check BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance at give.org or your BBB at bbb.org to make sure the charity is legitimate and its claim is true.

Verify if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs. Watch out for charities that don’t already have staff in the affected areas as they may not be able to provide assistance quickly.

Verify if the charity is providing direct aid or has hired “middlemen” to solicit donations. Some organizations hire middlemen/professional fundraisers, and a large portion of the donations is used to pay the solicitor’s salary. BBB advises that you give your contributions directly to charities that have a presence in the region and not make a pledge to a telemarketer who claims to be collecting on behalf of a charity. At a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

Verify charities that you want to contact for help or contribute to via your mobile device. Official mobile giving campaigns in support of emergency relief efforts are restricted to qualified campaigns and can be verified by visiting mobilegiving.org, It works with the wireless operators to ensure that mobile giving campaigns for emergency relief efforts adopt caution before launching fundraising efforts.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations are not as manageable for relief workers as cash 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 be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans, and find out what is their greatest need. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Warning Signs of a Charity Scam Avoid any charity or fundraiser that:
  • refuses to provide written information about its identity and how the donation will be used

  • will not provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible

  • uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization

  • asks for bank account or credit card information before you agree to contribute

  • uses high-pressure tactics to secure a donation

  • asks for donations in cash