Natural disasters can devastate entire populations. We watch the suffering and we want to give.
This is a good thing.
Unfortunately, disasters are also a good time for con artists. According to the FBI, more than 400 new domain names related to Haiti have been registered. Many of these are valid but some are scams. After every major disaster websites pop up asking for money. Some steal your money, and others clean out your accounts or steal your identiy, they get you to give account numbers (bank and credit card) or enter personal information. Beware: these scammers make their sites look remarkably like the websites of legitimate charities.
Periodically check lists and scams on the FBI and the Internet Storm Center. The Internet Storm Center (ISC) is a part of the SANS Institute. It’s an Internet monitoring system, mostly monitoring malicious activity on the Internet, especially in relation to large-scale events. The ISC is staffed with volunteers from all over the world and has already seen many domain names being parked with regards to Haiti.
Avoid Email Solicitations
- Be wary of anyone claiming to be a victim. People who were actually in the earthquake in Haiti are in no way able to email you asking for help. This is a scam.
- Delete any email with an attachment. Don’t respond to any unsolicited emails. Attachments are probably virsuses.
- Delete any unsolicited email asking for funds. Go straight to a charities website instead.
Text Message Donations
Text message donations are going to change giving. A text donation is easy, you can do it from anywhere and don’t even need to use a credit card (it shows up on your cellphone bill) Text messages are viral and provide a feeling of being part of a community. Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean is using Twitter to get his followers to donate $5 by texting and the American Red Cross has already raised around $4 million, many from text message donations.
The charity registers with a donations processor who works with the cell phone carrier. Some text message companies who work with donations: Mobile Giving, Give on the Go, Mgive. Your cell phone bill can be your receipt for tax purposes. If you use MGive (the Red Cross’s technology partner) you can print out all of your donations from Mgive.com, they are also waiving their administration fees. In addition, many of these services will let you sign up for tweets to see how your money was spent.
Phone carriers have a limit to how much you can donate per month. If you can donate more than the limit (usually $20 or $25) than you should donate through the charities website.
However, text message donations are also an easy way for con artists to scam you. According to Time magazine you should be especially careful, “when you learn of a nonprofit on Facebook, where phishing and other scams can give the impression that your friends are sending out links, when really a spammer has hijacked their identity.”
Legitimate organizations should send you a confirmation text after you pledge.
Here are some legitimate text message donations:
- Text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 on behalf of the Yéle Foundation, the leading contributor to rebuilding Haiti founded by Wyclef Jean.
- Text “Haiti” to 20222 to donate $10 on behalf of The Clinton Foundation (former President Clinton is Special Envoy to Haiti)
- Text “Haiti” to 85944 to donate $5 on behalf of the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.
- Text “Haiti” to 25383 to donate $5 on behalf of the Internal Rescue Committee.
- Text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 on behalf of the Red Cross in the U.S.
Reputable Organizations Currently Working in Haiti
- The American Red Cross: You can donate online, you can volunteer to give time or support, you can also donate $10 to the Red Cross’s International Response Fund by texting HAITI to 90999 (it shows up on your cell phone bill.)
- UNICEF: This organization has been working in Haiti for years, donate online.
- Doctors Without Borders: help them provide much-needed medical care
- Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund: Haitian-born Wyclef Jean offers $5 text message donations.
- MADRE: international women’s NGO, donate online
- Action Against Hunger: has been in Haiti since 1985, donate online
- Mercy Corps: long history of helping during natural disasters, donate
- Partners in Health: NGO founded in 1987, donate online
- International Rescue Committee: working on the ground to save lives, help them online
Tips to Avoid Charity Scams
- Don’t respond to unsolicited emails asking for money.
- Don’t give your personal or financial information to anyone soliciting online and by phone.
- Give money only to reputable organizations you know.
- Send money, not things. Charities can use your money to buy supplies, sending them only causes problems.
- Use Charity Navigator. They verify and rate charities and have this list of relief organizations working in Haiti.
- Use The Foundation Center to look up a potential charities tax status and to see whether or not that truly are a nonprofit.
- Avoid newly formed charities. Give to organizations that have a track record of giving and of working in Haiti.
- Do NOT give to the Haitian government, it is known to be corrupt.
- Don’t give to telemarketers. As we reported before, telemarketers take a large percent of the money for themselves. Give directly to the charities.
If you can help, you should. Reputable charities need your help.
For more information read our article Charity Scams: Doing Good or Doing Time?