The devastating images of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (also called Yolanda) in the Philippines are prompting many people to donate to relief efforts. And, in all probability, the heart-wrenching crisis is likely to prompt others to set up bogus appeals for help.
It's a fact of life: Generous people respond to an international crisis, but so do scammers and con artists. CharityNavigator.org notes that after Hurricane Katrina, the FBI found 4,000 fraudulent sites that were created to steal the identity and money of unwary donors.
Both legitimate and fraudulent appeals for help can come in by text, phone, email and snail mail. Here are four ways to make sure your donation does the most good.
Money Works Best
Seeing images of people in desperate need of basic supplies makes us want to pack things up and ship them off. Even if a package could make it through, someone has to receive, organize and distribute these items. Well-meaning but inexperienced groups may collect supplies, but good intentions alone are not enough. It's more practical, efficient and cost-effective to help established nonprofit groups buy the most-needed food, medicine, clothing, shelter materials and other items from suppliers near the disaster. This saves on shipping costs, plus the nonprofits often get good prices from companies for large purchases -- and typically the aid reaches those in need faster than items shipped from around the world. Instead of donating your old clothes and camping equipment, hold a sale and donate the profits.
Know the Charity's Track Record
Look for groups with experience helping in the region or with disasters of this nature, and ask specifically how the money will be used. Some groups specialize in providing food, some medical aid and others immediate shelter or rebuilding efforts. Decide how you would like your money to be used, and donate accordingly. If possible, designate your donation to "Typhoon Haiyan Philippines" to be sure your money is used for immediate relief and not simply added to a general fund. Never send cash, and don't give out your credit card or bank account numbers or other personal information unless you are familiar with the charity and know it is reputable. There are a number of sites that rate and evaluate charities, including the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar.
Realize the Pros and Cons of Texting Donations
What could be more convenient? Just text RELIEF to 8642333 to donate $10 to UNICEF or text TYPHOON to 80888 to give $10 to the Salvation Army's efforts in the Philippines. The donation will be deducted from your next monthly cell phone bill, and these are both well-known organizations, so that's a good way to go, right? Be aware that it can take 90 to 120 days before the money is given to the designated group, and it's not always true that 100% of the donation goes to relief efforts. There are often fundraising costs involved, because the charity typically pays a fee to sign up for the texting service. Plus, depending on your data plan, you may be charged for the text message (although some carriers wave these fees for texted donations to certain charities, such as the Red Cross). However, texting is a quick and easy way to donate, so the positive may outweigh the negatives. MobileGiving.org and The mGive Foundation list ways to text financial support to relief efforts in the Philippines.
Be Wary of Unsolicited Requests
Whether you're contacted by text, email or phone, be wary of strangers seeking donations. And just because a blog, website, friend or your favorite celebrity recommends a relief charity, don't simply assume it's legitimate or the best way to donate. Do some research before sending money. Be particularly on guard with phone callers who pressure you to make an immediate donation. Even if the request appears to be from a well-known organization, ask the caller if they are being paid for their fundraising efforts, what organization they work for, and what percentage of the donation will go to the charity. And if you get an email from someone claiming to be a victim of Typhoon Haiyan, be aware that this is a common scam after a disaster. Do not respond to the message, and if there is an attachment do not open it, because it might be a computer virus.
A disaster like the "super typhoon" that roared through the Philippines naturally sparks the urge to help. Just make sure to take the steps that will send your financial support to where you want it to go.