How to guard against Ebola-related charity scams
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa has taken the lives of more than 4,000 people. Many people are asking how they can help.
If you’re looking for a way to give, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, urges you to do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised.
Urgent appeals for aid that you get by phone or mail, by e-mail, on websites, or even in person, may not be on the up-and-up. Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters who either solicit for bogus charities or aren’t honest about how a so-called charity will use your contribution.
If you’re asked to make a charitable donation, consider these tips:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. You want to find a charity with a proven track record. The CDC Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Congress, has a Global Disaster Response Fund that supports the CDC’s work in West Africa.
- Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. “Look alike” websites resembling legitimate charitable organizations and international aid efforts are popping up. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, IRS Select Check, or Foundation Center.
- Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
- Don’t give out financial information — including your credit card or bank account number — unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never click on links or open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is. Opening attachments — even in emails that seem to be from friends or family — can install malware on your computer.
- Verify the origins of any email or text messages soliciting donations for Ebola aid efforts.
- Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate or have been vetted. Research the charitable organization yourself.
- When texting to donate, first confirm the number with the source. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
- Never send cash: you can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
- Think about how you want your donation used, and make sure that the charity you choose engages in those activities. For example, do you want your donation to support research, direct patient aid, aid in a specific country, providing medical supplies to caregivers, or helping orphans? If your charity of choice engages in multiple programs, consider designating your gift for the program you want to support. By designating your gift, you’ll ensure that your donation will be used as you intended.
- Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting your state attorney general or secretary of state. You can find a link to that office at the National Association of State Charity Officials.
For more on the questions to ask and for a list of groups that can help you research a charity, go to Charity Scams.