ESCANABA - It is as regular as clockwork. Within days of any large-scale tragedy, there are reports of people who want to take advantage of Americans' eagerness to provide relief to the victims.
While contributions to helpful causes are strongly encouraged, donors should make certain the charity is properly registered with appropriate government agencies, that it describes exactly what it will do to address the needs of victims, and that it is willing to provide written information about its finances and programs.
In addition to checking with the Better Business Bureau, donors should consider the following tips when giving in the wake of a tragedy or disaster:
- Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on facts describing what the charity will do to address the needs of victims and their families.
- If you contribute, do not give cash. Make a check or money order out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.
- If you decide to contribute online, find out more about the charity before making a contribution and be aware of red flags. For example, some charities imitate the name and style of a well-known organization in order to confuse people. Also, when clicking on the link to "donate", look at the organization's URL in the browser window. Exercise caution if the domain name is hidden, is not familiar to you, or is not the same as the one stated in the text of the link.
- Watch out for excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a "runner" to pick up your contribution.
- Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an email solicitation. Ask the caller or sender to provide you with written information on the charity's programs and finances.
- Do not hesitate to ask for written information that describes the charity's program(s) and finances such as the charity's latest annual report and financial statements. Even newly created organizations should have some basic information available.
- Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs. Ask how much of your gift will be used for the activity mentioned in the appeal and how much will go toward other programs and administrative and fund raising costs.
- See if the charity's appeal explains what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after they have fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned in solicitations.
You can obtain further advice on giving, as well as access reports on national charities, by visiting www.give.org, the Web site of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the national charity watchdog affiliated with the Better Business Bureau system. Reports on local charities are available through the BBB at www.bbb.org/us/charity/
If you believe you have been the victim of a questionable charitable appeal, report the crime to your local police or sheriff's office immediately.
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Gary Ballweg is sheriff of Delta County