Avoid spam and scams: Donations to Haiti Relief and Recovery efforts

Do you homework before you turn in your donation for the Haiti earthquake relief and recovery efforts.

“Whenever there is a natural disaster, there are two things you can count on,” says Art Taylor, president of the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, a nonprofit consumer group. “The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run, and in some cases fraudulent, charities,” he says in a statement on the group’s Website.
Former Presidents Bush and Clinton were not the only ones to rush to a site like GoDaddy.com to purchase and establish a domain name to begin their online efforts to collect donations towards the recovery and relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Spammers and con artist were also happy to pay the few dollars necessary to start their own web sites to begin their fraudulent collection efforts. More than 400 Internet addresses related to Haiti have been registered since Monday’s devastating quake, Internet security expert Joel Esler said. The names reference Haiti and words such as “earthquake,” “help,” “aid,” “victims” and “survivors.” There are many scams out there interfering with the Haiti relief and recovery efforts; find out the most common ones and what you can do about them.
E-Mail Phishing Scams
Here is a sample of an email message circulating, requesting donations toward the Haiti relief and recovery effort. It appears to be from the British Red Cross Society (or you may have received it from any other organization) requesting donations and providing instructions on how to make your donation.
If you receive this email message from the Haiti Disaster Response Agency in Port-au-Prince, Haiti you too have been spammed for a donation.
The “big” names in relief efforts, like UNICEF are not left untouched, with this email message circulating throughout the net.
These are all “phishing” scams, “fishing” to get your information and take up a collection that helps no one but the scam artist. How to identify these scams?
Most legitimate charitable organizations don’t send out email messages for donations unless you are currently on their mailing list.
Look for subject lines like: “HELP THE CHILDREN IN HAITI .. DONATE TODAY
Read carefully, grammar and spelling mistakes are a good indication that you are being spammed.
Don’t rely solely on your spam filter on your computer or email service.
The fake Haiti relief efforts are not limited to email messages, but several collection efforts have cropped up on popular social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to investigate these organizations before making them a friend or fan. Remember once they are your “friend” they are also every one else’s.

What can you do to protect yourself from Haiti relief and recovery effort spams and scams?

-Do your homework: Research organizations before you donate. It is far too easy to click a button to donate, but don’t touch that “dial” until you know what you are getting into. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy advises givers to “target groups with strong track records in the area. They should donate to aid organizations that know Haiti, understand the needs of Haitians, and have well-organized distribution systems for actually delivering that aid.” The FBI warns to exercise “due diligence” before making a donation. They offer these 6 tips to stay safe when making a donation in a press release of Jan. 13, 2009. Be sure to visit sites like Charity Navigator.org and the BBB site regarding charities and organizations to find out more about the charity or relief agency of your choice.
The (AIP) American Institute of Philanthropy lists approximately 25 organizations as those that are top rated in the Haitian relief effort. Ratings are based on the ability to: spend at least 75% of its budget on program services and charities should spend no more than $25 to raise $100.
-Beware and Aware: Articles like this one and sample email messages can help you know which scams are out there and how they are being used. Beware of claims that 100% of donations go towards the Haiti relief effort. Even credit cards charge a fee that can take a bite out of your donation.
-Is this charity “on the ground?” Charities that already have a presence in Haiti will be able to respond quicker and more effectively than those needed to make arrangements or ask permission to be involved.
-Ask questions. Is this charity providing direct relief or are they raising money to pass on? One example of the charitable middle man is the AT&T text donation effort. While it is convenient you may want to simply send your money to the Red Cross and cut out the middle man.
This isn’t the first time that great tragedy has brought about great greed; similar scams were present after the other natural disasters, such as the Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. However, many of those thieves have been prosecuted, because they were reported. If you think you have been a victim of a charitable collection scam, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center , a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance designed to track and match related online criminal complaints.