Avoiding Disaster Relief Scams When Giving to Japan Skip to main content

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Avoiding Disaster Relief Scams When Giving to Japan


The U.S. has always been a nation of givers. Despite the recession and high unemployment, approximately 80% of Americans continued to give to religious and/or secular charities.

That trend has continued in earnest following the recent earthquake catastrophe in Japan.

According to a Chronicle of Philanthropy report, as of March 14, 2011, $24 million in donations has already rolled in to charitable organizations like The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Save the Children, and more.  But while American hearts appear in the right place during this trying time for the Japanese, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), so are the con artists and scammers, all working hard to part you with your donation during this and any other global natural disaster.

"Any time there is a disaster, scam artists are quick to seek donations for the victims," said Cindy Dudley, director of BBB Business Services in the wake of the February 2011 New Zealand earthquake. "People want to help and often feel that charities with the name of the disaster are an express way to channel funds directly to the victims."

But scam artists are well aware that using the nomenclature of the particular disaster is a tricky way to target unwary givers. As a result, it’s vitally important to protect your precious donations by double-checking at www.wisegiving.org in order to make sure the charities you want to support aren’t on the same “shaky ground” as the areas you’re trying to help.  This site (and Guidestar.org) also shares how much of each dollar you give goes to the actual relief agencies, compared to fundraising efforts and overhead—a good way to know whether your had-earned money is going where it should: directly to victims on the ground.  The “best” charities in this regard give upwards of 80% of funds raised directly to the relief effort.  And, of course, with every donation, don’t forget to get a printed receipt featuring the name and contact information of the charity.

Unfortunately, these disaster scams aren’t isolated to events happening abroad. Recently Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine was forced to recently issue a warning to state citizens warning “Ohioans to beware of unscrupulous home improvement contractors attempting to take advantage of flood victims.” We saw the same swindlers come out of the woodwork this past summer, targeting altruistic people who wanted to help with the oil spill disaster, some posing as insurance adjusters who attempted to charge victims to expedite their claims “for a fee.”

As a result of these unscrupulous con artists inundating scenes of disaster relief, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is offering guidelines for those wanting to give, but also wanting to protect their wallets, including:

Do Your Donor Homework
Research the validity of the organization you’re giving to by visiting the Better Business Bureau’s charity website: bbb.org/charity. And don’t forget to avoid orgs offering to give 100% of your donation to the relief efforts: a near-impossibility for charities paying people “on the ground.”

Speaking of….Only Give to Those “On the Ground”
How involved is your charity in the actual relief effort? If they don't have people already on the ground in Japan, find out exactly what efforts your money is funding.

You Owe it to Yourself to Be Doubly-Careful with Online Links
Online giving has exploded over the past several years. Nevertheless, be wary when giving to an organization that contacted you via e-mail link. Instead, go straight to the source—the organization’s website—when giving online.  Even if they have a website, double-check their validity with the BBB. And keep in mind, donations by text may be easy, but it can also take a while to get that pledge to the people who need it most.

Considering Bankruptcy and a Donation?
Perhaps you’re worried that declaring bankruptcy means you cannot donate. But, in fact, bankruptcy laws protects a debtors rights to give back. Want to find out more about how the bankruptcy laws protects givers, givers who may end up needing help themselves? Check it out with the Law Offices of John T. Orcutt. In North Carolina, call for a totally FREE consultation. Call toll free to +1-919-646-2654 or visit their website at www.billsbills.com.

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