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BBB alert: Philippines typhoon charity scams

Roanoke –  The BBB is alerting consumers that charity scams have already begun in the devastating wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. 

Considered one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history, Haiyan has left more than 300,000 homeless and up to 10,000 feared dead. Scammers are now attempting to take advantage of this terrible disaster by sending out fraudulent pleas for help.

The BBB of Upstate New York received the following email just days after the storm hit landfall:

Good Day,

Sorry for any inconvenience, but I’m in a terrible situation right now. I came down here to Manila Philippines for a program before the Typhoon happened which left me with almost nothing! My wallet and other valuables were stolen off last night by unknown thugs, leaving my passport and life safe. My luggage is still in custody of the hotel management pending when I make payment on outstanding bills I owe. I contacted my bank (E-mail) for a wire transfer but it has proven almost Impossible to operate my account from here as they made me understand international transactions take 7 working days to be effective I have also been to the police and embassy here, but they aren’t helping issues, which i can’t wait. I need you to help me with a loan to pay my hotel bills and get my self home. I will reimburse you soon as I get back Home. I will appreciate whatever you can assist me with. Let me know if you can be of help.

All hopes on you.

Sadly, scammers attempting these despicable attempts are very common following tragic events. Just 5 hours after the Boston marathon bombing, over 120 domain names had been registered connected to the event to solicit donations.

The emergence of social media has given scammers an extremely potent tool for operating these scams. It is simple for scammers to reach thousands of potential victims quickly, and the use of photographs of the tragedy can illicit an emotional response and quick “donation”.

“We are inspired to give following tragedies,” said Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Western VA, “but sadly these events also inspire scammers to take advantage of our generosity. If you’re giving, do your homework first. Know who you are giving to and know where your money is going.”

BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others:

Thoughtful Giving. Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.

Help Spread the Wise Giving Work. Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well. People are emotionally moved by events like these and may react before they have time to carefully consider.

State Government Registration. About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.

How Will Donations Be Used? Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

Online Cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

Financial Transparency. After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

Newly Created or Established Organizations. This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

Tax Deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and business and charity reviews you can trust, visit www.bbb.org. Find out if a charity meets recognized accountability standards. If you want assurance that the charity is transparent, accountable, and well managed, see if it meets the BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 “Standards for Charity Accountability” by visiting give.org.

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