Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian earthquake relief: What to know before you donate

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, many generous people are eager to help by donating. If you’re among them, make sure you’re giving to a legitimate organization that‘s in a position to actually provide assistance, warns the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, a charity watchdog.

Scammers often respond to disasters quickly by setting up fake charities and registering Web addresses in various combinations that sound like legitimate groups or that seem related to the disaster.

Another concern is that some bona fide charities seeking donations may not be in a position to help in Haiti, immediately or long-term. Some groups don’t actually have an on-the-ground presence in the country. Some merely collect money on behalf of other organizations, the BBB warns. And some charities spend little on their charitable programs, compared to fund-raising or administration.

• Give to a well-known, top-rated organization. The White House Web site is recommending that those who want to help immediately with the relief effort donate to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which responds to international disasters. It says you can donate $10 through your cell phone by texting "HAITI" to "90999." When donating to the Red Cross or any group, be sure to indicate whether you want to be contacted by email or otherwise, if given that option. With some groups, you may have to opt out to avoid being sent additional info that you may not want.

Another charity watchdog, Charity Navigator has posted a list of 31 charities that can help, including the American Red Cross. You can use the group’s interactive world map to find an expanded list of top-rated groups that provide assistance to Haiti. As of Wednesday, it had listed 44 organizations. Charity Navigator also provides tips for giving in a crisis and for protecting yourself from online charity scams.

• Beware of email appeals or phone calls. Unsolicited email or calls may come from scammers trying to sound like they’re a legitimate, well-known charity. Don’t click on links in email. Instead, use a Web search to find a specific organization or, if you know the URL, type it directly in your browser. Sometimes legitimate groups hire direct mail or telephone telemarketers who take a substantial portion of the donation. It’s always best to give directly to an organization that you know can help and bypass any middleman. Consumer Reports

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