MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In the wake of just about any tragedy, there is always an outpouring of support for those impacted.
Charities will often set up funds for people in need after the event. The Boston Marathon bombing is no different.
But not all groups asking you to give are legit. Scammers will set up websites made to look like charities collecting donations when in effect they looking to steal credit card information or infect computers with malware. Hours after the bombing in Boston, more than a dozen website domain names like “bostonmarathondonations.com” and “bostonmarathonvictimfund.com” were registered.
While it’s not known yet how these website names will be used, consumer experts are warning those wanting to give to be on their guard.
On Wednesday, the North Miami Beach Police sent out a reminder to their city’s residents to watch out for fake websites, emails and twitter message designed to scam them out of their money.
They say before you open your wallet, check out the charity first. The website Charity Navigator can confirm links to many legitimate national charities.
It’s usually best to donate to well-known, established charities. When donating online, make sure to visit the official website of the organization, and not a “copycat” site designed to fool donors.
Before you give them a credit card number make sure the charity identifies what the funds will be used for specifically. When giving to any organization, designate the preferred use for your donation (e.g. “for the families of Boston Marathon victims”), and do so in writing whenever possible.
Avoid cash donations whenever possible. Use credit or debit cards or write a check directly to a charity. Do not write a check to an individual solicitor.
Be cautious of phone calls, e-mails or social media posts claiming to represent a charity or victims. Do not open attachments from unsolicited e-mails or give out personal financial information over the phone.
Anyone who encounters any type of scam should report it to the local police or the State Department of Consumer Protection.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance (“Alliance”), the national charity monitoring arm of the Better Business Bureau, and BBB Serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont (“BBB Boston”) cautions donors about potential red flags concerning tragedy-related philanthropy.
“Tragedies inspire people to give,” said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of the Alliance, “but, tragedies – whether natural disasters or manmade catastrophes – also inspire scammers to take advantage of that generosity. Social media, in particular, makes it very easy to reach a lot of people quickly, when emotions are running high and people feel the need to take action, any action, to help.”
BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance: Ten Tips for Giving with Confidence
- 1. Thoughtful Giving
Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.
- 2. Help Spread the Wise Giving Word
Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well. People are emotionally moved by events like these and may react before they have time to carefully consider.
- 3. State Government Registration
About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.
- 4. Respecting Victims and Their Families
Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater and Newtown school victims did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.
- 5. How Will Donations Be Used?
Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.
- 6. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?
Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)
- 7. Online Cautions
Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
- 8. Financial Transparency
After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
- 9. Newly Created or Established Organizations
This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.
- 10. Tax Deductibility
Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.