Beware of Disaster Relief Scams

It can be hard spot the crooks and thieves who run disaster relief scams. They are often very good at deception and can fool even the smartest people. How can you make sure your money actually goes to the victims of disasters?

Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who evil. Some of them are pretty smart and are able to come up with convincing stories to separate you from your money, even in the name of charity. I suspect there’s a special place in Hell for those folks, but how can you be sure your desperately needed donations are actually going to help the Katrina victims and not to line the pockets of these crooks?

Read the things to beware of and continue to the bottom of the page, where I will list legitimate organizations that you can call and donate to. Please do donate whatever you can. This is an unprecedented situation and people just like you and me have lost everything. They need and deserve your help.

Things to Beware of:

1—Never give your credit card number to anyone calling on the phone or emailing you. They can sound very legitimate! They can copy logos and make their emails and scam sites look very real—this is called “phishing”. Do not fall for it. Do not give your credit card number to anyone over the phone or online, unless you called them, or unless you go to their website. I will list some real sources below.

2—If an individual calls or emails you claiming to be a victim, tell them you donate to relief organizations and suggest they call them, and delete the email without responding. These emails will direct you to a bogus, but real-looking site to enter your credit card. They will not only steal the money you donate, they will likely use your credit card number to buy more stuff!

Many people will call, fax and email asking for donations, saying they are victims the latest disaster. They are not—they are crooks. The Red Cross, FEMA and thousands of other agencies are handling distributions of money, goods and services to the real victims.

3—Door-to-door solicitations and telemarketing: Real charities rarely have the manpower to do this. They are busy helping victims and they know it’s not an efficient way to collect money or goods. Crooks are not busy and know that playing on your sympathy is a good way to get extra cash. Simply tell them you are donating by other means.

4—Roadside collection points: Some of these are legitimate, but unless you know for sure, drive on by. There are many places you can donate and know that your money will go to the right sources.

5—Opening your home to provide housing. Thousands of people volunteer their homes for displaced hurricane victims. I urge extreme caution in this matter as well. There’s no way for you to know that the person you help will not harm you. Please go through the Red Cross or your church to make sure you are helping real victims. If you are able to do this, I applaud you, but please do be careful.

Smart Giving Tips:

1—Write a check, don’t give cash. Make your check out to the organization, not an individual. Never give your credit card, social security number or other personal information over the phone unless You made the call. And, even then, be sure you’ve got the right organization.

2—Ask questions. You have the right to know how your money will be used. You have a responsibility to ensure that it will be used wisely.

3—Give to the legitimate organizations below, or one that you are personally affiliated with, such as your church or a local group that you know.

Legitimate Charities who need Your Donations (and how to contact them):

Red Cross—My favorite because they get things done. No matter what the tragedy, where it happened, or what color, creed, gender, nationality or religion of the victims, they respond and bring real relief.

Their phone number is 1-800-HELP NOW. That’s been their number for years. It’s easy to remember and if you call them, you can rest assured that some poor victim will benefit. Their website is If you search for “red cross” they will come up at the top.

Network for Good has a lengthy list of legitimate organizations. You can find links here for many organizations. The ASPCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity and many others who are doing great things. You can also read about the various organizations—their missions, their needs, etc.

Local organizations Find out what your area is doing. Search for donation information in your local area. Many news stations and local governments will have web pages devoted to relief efforts. You can find them by searching online for “relief + (your area)”. Or, call your local city hall and ask them.

Again, please do give, and give generously. I urge everyone to contribute in whatever way they can so that our friends, family and fellow citizens can rebuild their lives.