Want to send relief aid to Moore, Oklahoma and other communities in the Midwest devastated by the recent tornadoes? Just be careful where you donate. As with any natural disaster or tragedy, there’s a risk that scammers will create fake charities and fraudulent relief funds to steal your money.

In the past twelve months alone, we’ve observed charity scams exploiting public sympathy for Hurricane Sandy, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and last month’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Fraudsters know that emotions are running high as our TV screens and Facebook timelines fill up with stories from the tornado zone. These stories inspire many Americans to help, often by donating to the first relief organization they come across without stopping first to investigate the charity’s credentials.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for scammers to create websites for fake charities that appear legitimate on the surface. Without knowing warning signs, you might give your money to a scammer instead of the people who need it.

Make sure your tornado relief aid gets to the Midwest, where it can help survivors in Oklahoma, instead of a fake organization. Follow our 6 Tips to Avoid a Charity Scam:


Tip #1. Stick with Charities You Know and Trust

If you’re interested in donating right now, we recommend sending relief to the Red Cross, United Way of Central Oklahoma or AmeriCares. Not only are these groups legitimate, but they already have the infrastructure in place to help victims. Your money can be distributed quickly to support volunteers and survivors on the ground.

If you prefer to support an individual cause, such as a specific school that needs rebuilding or a relief fund just for pets, remember that the need won’t disappear overnight. The total damage is still being assessed and there will be many opportunities to help in the coming months. Save your money until you can verify any new, special interest charity.


Tip #2. Research Charities Online

Guidestar logo

Use sites like guidestar.org to verify charities before you donate.

Contact the State Attorney General or the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) to find out if the organization is officially registered. We also recommend the watchdog sites guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org.

Additionally, use www.whois.com/whois to research for a charity’s website. You’ll be able to find out when the site domain was registered (and possibly the name of the person who registered it). If the site was created very recently — and if it was created by someone overseas — this is a warning sign that the charity may be fraudulent.


Tip #3. Don’t Believe Viral Victims

Are you seeing stories and images about tornado victims on Facebook, Twitter or your email inbox? Don’t believe every tale. Hoaxes and twisted facts tend to go viral in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or tragedy.

Many of these false stories are ultimately harmless, but some may ask for donations and include a PayPal link. Never give money to someone who claims to be a victim unless you know them personally or have another way to verify their story.


Tip #4. Under Pressure? That’s a Red Flag

Even in times of immediate need, a legitimate charity will never pressure you to make a donation you can’t afford. If an individual soliciting donations is rude, threatening, or refuses to answer questions, it’s unlikely that they’re representing a real charity.

Call the organization they claim to represent and report the incident. If the caller makes violent threats or continues to harass you, contact your local law enforcement.

Artistic photo of tornado devastation

Trust your gut and don’t donate if you’re uncomfortable. You can always send relief aid to a different charity at a later time.

Tip #5. Remember (or Keep Records About) All Past Donations

Charity scammers often try to build trust with their victims by calling and thanking them for past donations. If you’re contacted out of the blue and praised for your history of generosity, pause and think about your history with this supposed charity.

A legitimate charity representative will be able to provide the date of your donations or other verifying information. If the caller can’t do this, it’s a red flag.

Always keep a receipt or other records when you make a donation to any nonprofit or charitable organization. This will help you avoid being scammed in the future.


Tip #6. Watch Out for Unsolicited Text Messages

Get a text, out of the blue, asking for a donation? Be careful. Although many legitimate charities are able to receive donations via text message (you text a certain code and the donation is added to your next cell phone bill) it’s highly improbable that they will send out unsolicited text messages.

Trust your gut instinct and don’t respond to any message that seems suspicious. Remember, you can always find other ways to donate.


Other Ways to Help Oklahoma Tornado Victims

Of course, there are other ways to help victims besides donating to a charity. You can contact your local Red Cross to donate blood, get involved with your local community center or church, or simply share these tips to spread the word on disaster relief scams.

Raising awareness is one of the most effective ways to fight fraud.

Our hearts go out to the tornado victims in the Midwest.


See Also

3 New Anti-Scam Tips for Donating to Philippines Typhoon Relief Aid Charity
6 Tips to Avoid Fake Charity Scams During Breast Cancer Awareness Month
3 Ways to Avoid Hurricane Sandy Charity Scams

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