Now that it has finally stopped raining in Houston, and the hurricane has passed in other parts of Texas, we want to how we can help the community begin to recover from Hurricane Harvey. But an especially important aspect for you to understand is how to avoid scams when donating to disaster relief. This applies to all disaster relief efforts, but is a good topic to learn about in the midst of Hurricane Harvey recovery. There are still areas that are being devastated at this moment as the storm moves through Texas, so the needs will continue to grow over the next several days.
It is so great to see so many people step up and help out in whatever ways they can so that the citizens of Texas can get that financial relief needed to start rebuilding their lives from this disaster.
But a situation like what is happening in Houston brings to light that there are numerous scams out there that claim to be giving and supporting the relief efforts for disasters. They use the opportunity to bank a bunch of money and scam many out of millions of dollars. In fact even as I write this a news report on a popular morning news show stated that scammers have already amassed over $20 million for Hurricane Harvey – even while the devastation is still building!
That is so heartbreaking in the midst of a disaster to know that millions of dollars intended for relief efforts, never make it to those efforts.
Not only is money lost, but donated items can be of little help as well. Many people will send “stuff” instead of money, which seems like an option that helps to limit and prevent fraud with cash-collection charities. Not only does it seem safer in terms of avoiding scams a little more, but it seems to be quite helpful; at least that’s what I used to think. But this past week, I read some articles on why you really shouldn’t donate “stuff” but rather money.
These articles were very interesting, discussing how the donation of stuff becomes more of a disaster itself, leading to further issues. In the end, what they really need is money to get exactly what they need.
In fact, this article shares a glimpse of what happens, post disaster, with donations. And this article shares the 10 Worst Things To Donate in a Disaster. It is eye-opening and heart-breaking. The manpower and resources used to just sort and find usable goods an overwhelming drain on the relief efforts, but most of it is unusable and then efforts are made to figure out what to do with piles and piles of rotting clothing, goods, foods and medicines.
I also had an eye-opening epiphany regarding the donation of bottled water. In one disaster in Africa, generous Americans donated bottled water to equal 100,000 liters, providing enough drinking water for 40,000 people for one day. But the cost of shipping this donated water from America to West Africa cost $300,000. However, all they needed was water purification units that can produce 100,000 liters of drinking water at a cost of $300.
In the end, if you want to donate goods, go directly to your local Salvation Army and churches as they have a more organized system in place to provide needs when needs arise.
Same thing with food and water. If you want to donate physical food and water, then go to your local food banks. Then when a need for food arises, the local food banks can meet that need with much more effectiveness and efficiency.
That brings us back to the original intent of this article. If you want to donate to disaster relief directly, money is really the only way to do it.
But donating money blindly is scary and also seems less personal. But know that it is far more loving and helpful when given to a legitimate charity.
So how do you know you are sending money to a legit disaster relief effort?
CNN Money has a helpful article explaining how to find the legit charities and avoid those scams.
Know that there are people who are setting up fake websites and scams the very second a hurricane is named so that they can capitalize on the generous people. The first clues are charities that spring up immediately after the disaster, charities that are named after the disaster or contains the disaster in the name of the charity somewhere. Not all are scams, but it is the first clue.
Secondly, looks for subtle misspellings, suspicious looking websites, and other small clues that don’t make sense. In other words, if it feels suspicious, then it probably isn’t legitimate.
The FTC also urges donors to be wary of donation solicitations from social media.
All of these “clues” can still make it difficult to determine if a charity is reputable. Charity scams are smart and know how to look legit.
So the FTC is encouraging taking a moment to investigate the history and legitimacy listed on one of these charity watchdog sites:
According to the CNN article referenced above:
If you’re going to donate using a popular crowdfunding tool like GoFundMe, the group has set up a page dedicated to Harvey efforts. GoFundMe said it was coordinating with local and federal officials to prevent fraud.
And if you do think you’ve been targeted by a scammer, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline (866-720-5721) or the Texas Attorney General’s hotline (800-621-0508). You can also alert the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Finally, if you are thinking you can’t afford to send a lot, just know that $10 is going to be FAR more helpful than the gas money and time you spend taking your physical goods somewhere. If you planned to ship the items yourself, donating your shipping costs in cash instead will go much further than the stuff that is inside the box.