Fraud follows high-profile tragedies

After Parkland, after any public tragedy, don’t fall for the wave of fundraising scams.

You watch the news. You can’t imagine a parent’s pain in the face of such loss. You want to do or give something.

You better do your homework.

Inevitably, and disgustingly, scammers come out of the woodwork in nearly every high-profile tragedy from school shootings to natural disasters. Unsolicited appeals for donations from sketchy sources, fake GoFundMe accounts — it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ they will pop up.

That’s why if you’re truly moved to support the recovery of a public tragedy, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance wants you to follow these guidelines:

  • Thoughtful Giving. Take the time to check out the charity. Is it properly registered with state regulators? What percentage of its collections actually goes to those in need and how much goes to operational or fund-raising expenses? Research charities at www.give.org and on Charity Navigator.
  • Crowdfunding. It seems every time there’s a tragedy, there’s a GoFundMe account. Who’s really running that account? Most crowdfunding sites do little or nothing to screen those who open collection accounts on those sites. Follow the Wise Giving Alliance’s crowdfunding tips.
  • Respect for Victims and Their Families. Legitimate individuals or agencies raising money should have families’ permission to use the names or pictures of their lost loved ones to solicit donations. If they didn’t, don’t give to them.
  • State Government Registration. Most states require charities or nonprofits to be registered with either their attorneys general or their secretaries of state. Check your state’s charity regulator to see if the fundraiser’s authorized to operate in your state.
  • Vague Appeals. Beware appeals for donations that do not specify how the funds will be spent. A legitimate fund-raising effort by an authorized source will specify how and when the money will be used.
  • What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Be mindful, a family’s individual fund is not set up as a charity, nor is it regulated as a charity. If a reputable third-party (i.e. bank, CPA, lawyer) is administering the family’s fund, there is better accountability for that fund.
  • Opportunistic Advocacy Organizations. Tragedies involving violence often fire up both pro- and anti-gun advocacy groups. It’s not uncommon for both to ramp up fundraising efforts after the shootings. Don’t give just because someone calls. Trust and verify the source, and be aware that not all so-called advocacy groups are tax-exempt¬†regulated charities or nonprofits.
  • Online Caution. Never click on unsolicited emails or texts prompting you to follow links for giving. Those often lead to look-alike sites that are mining for personal or financial information.
  • Tax Deductibility. Since not all organizations collecting funds may be tax-exempt charities, your donation may not be tax-deductible.

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