In the wake of the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers to choose carefully when considering urgent appeals for aid in the news, online and at social networking sites. The best way to provide immediate help is to donate money directly to established national relief organizations that have the experience and means to deliver aid.
The FTC has these tips to help consumers give wisely:
• Donate to recognized charities that you have given to before. Watch out for those that have sprung up overnight. They may be well-meaning, but lack the infrastructure to provide assistance. And be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
• You don’t have to donate to someone who contacts you out of the blue with an unsolicited e-mail, phone call, or text message. It’s better to give through a Web site or phone number that you know is legitimate.
• Give directly to the charity, not the solicitors for the charity. Solicitors take a portion of the proceeds to cover their costs, which leaves less for victim assistance.
• Do not give out personal or financial information – including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers – to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you.
• Check out any charities before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
• Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through national charities like www.redcross.org/donate.
Ask for identification if you’re approached in person. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they are soliciting.