Biz Bulletin: Learn how to avoid hurricane relief scams

Biz Bulletin: Learn how to avoid hurricane relief scams

August 31st, 2012 by By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Q I would like to help victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, but I know there are many scams that pop up after a disaster. How can I be sure my money goes to the best place to help without landing in the hands of fraudsters?

A In the wake of Hurricane Isaac and other storms threatening coastal regions of the U.S., this season, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips to help donors decide where to direct donations to assist hurricane victims:

• Be cautious when giving online.

Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to unsolicited spam messages, emails and social media posts that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity's website. In response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Asian tsunamis, the FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.

• Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.

Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

• Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.

Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.

If charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization still probably is incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses still will be incurred.

• Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted 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. 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. Be wary of door-to-door solicitations that request cash.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@