Hurricanes not only mean keeping an eye out for weather-related danger but for scams seeking to take people’s money.

As category-5 Hurricane Dorian approaches the Florida coast, the Better Business Bureau encourages generous souls to support experienced disaster relief organizations. But people should beware scams, too.

Charity disaster appeals should be clear about what activities donor support will fund, too.

“As Dorian is predicted to be a devastating storm,” said Art Taylor, president and chief executive officer of BBB’s Give.org, “most of us will be motivated to provide immediate help. Donations to experienced disaster relief efforts are the best option to achieve that goal.

“A recent public survey we distributed earlier this year shows that only 24 percent of individuals say charity disaster relief appeals are very clear. So, we also encourage charities to make sure their relief solicitations explain the nature of their disaster assistance activities.”

In previous weather disasters, Give.org has seen crowdfunding posts from individuals claiming to raise funds so they can deliver and distribute water, food and flashlights to impacted areas. Even if sincere, such efforts may risk lives, complicate access by professional efforts and potentially divert donations that could be directed in more helpful ways.

“Donors should watch out for newly created organizations that emerge that are either inexperienced in addressing disasters or may be seeking to deceive donors at a vulnerable time,” Taylor said.

BBB also expects to see price-gougers and “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off of preparation and clean-up efforts. Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker or the office of the Attorney General in their state.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests donors keep tips in mind to avoid questionable appeals for support:

– Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB standards for charity accountability.

– See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has skilled operations in the affected areas, it may be difficult to provide assistance quickly and effectively. See if the charity’s website or appeal clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate relief needs as well as longer-term recovery needs.

– Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or is 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 give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Appeals for disaster-related donations should clearly state how contributions will be used.

– Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to hand out such aid properly. Donated goods may impose extra costs on a charity to cover storage and distribution, and also may not meet the most urgent needs.

– Understand crowdfunding. While there are resources to help vet charities, it is difficult to vet individuals. If you decide to contribute to an individual via crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Also, remember that gifts to help a specific individual generally are not deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes. Remember to check the terms and conditions of the crowdfunding platform to learn how your donation might be affected.

So, keep an eye on weather forecasts and keep an eye on organizations seeking help. Nothing wrong with helping but do so wisely.

 

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