Helping Victims of Hurricane Katrina: Your Guide to Giving Wisely
HURRICANE KATRINA DONATION INFORMATION
Helping Victims of Hurricane Katrina: Your Guide to Giving Wisely
In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Americans are opening their hearts and wallets to help the affected communities in the Gulf Coast. The federal government is advising that the best way to provide immediate assistance is to donate money directly to established national relief organizations with the experience and means to deliver aid.
If youíre thinking about the best ways to provide help to those affected by the Hurricane, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nationís consumer protection agency, has these tips to help you give wisely:
* Donate to recognized charities you have given to before. Watch out for charities that have sprung up overnight. They may be well-meaning, but lack the infrastructure to provide assistance. And be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar, or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
* Give directly to the charity, not the solicitors for the charity. Thatís because solicitors take a portion of the proceeds to cover their costs, which leaves less for victim assistance.
* Do not give out personal or financial information ó including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers ó to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you.
* Check out any charities before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureauís Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
* Donít give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through national charities like www.redcross.org/donate.
* Ask for identification if youíre approached in person. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which theyíre soliciting.
Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit the people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.
* Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address and telephone number. A legitimate charity or fund-raiser will give you information about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
* Check out the charity's financial information. For many organizations, this information can be found online at www.guidestar.org or at GuideStar, 427 Scotland Street, Williamsburg, VA 23185; 757-229-4631.
* Ask for identification. The Telemarketing Sales Rule requires for-profit fund-raisers to disclose the name of the charity requesting the donation. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they're soliciting. If the solicitor refuses to tell you, hang up and report it to law enforcement officials.
* Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
* Check with local recipients. If giving to local organizations is important to you, make sure they will benefit from your generosity. If a charity tells you that your dollars will support a local organization, such as a fire department, police department or hospital, call the organization to verify the claim.
* Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.
* Know the difference between "tax exempt" and "tax deductible." Tax exempt means the organization doesn't have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return. Even if an organization is tax exempt, your contribution may not be tax deductible. If a tax deduction is important to you, ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution and stating that it is tax deductible.
Beware of organizations that use meaningless terms to suggest they are tax exempt charities. For example, the fact that an organization has a "tax I.D. number" doesn't mean it is a charity; every nonprofit and for-profit organization must have a tax I.D. number. And an invoice that tells you to "keep this receipt for your records" doesn't mean that your donation is tax deductible or that the organization is tax exempt.
* Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records. Be on the alert for invoices claiming you've made a pledge. Some unscrupulous solicitors use this approach to get your money.
* Ask how your donation will be distributed. How much will go to the program you want to support (as opposed to other programs of the nonprofit), and how much will cover the charity's administrative and telemarketing costs?
* Refuse high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers won't push you to give on the spot.
* Be wary of charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately.
* Consider the costs. When buying merchandise or tickets for special events, or when receiving "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that these items cost money and generally are paid for out of your contribution. Although this can be an effective fund-raising tool, less money may be available for the charity.
* Be wary of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to law, you never have to donate anything to be eligible to win.
* Avoid cash gifts. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it's best to pay by check.
Where to Complain
If you believe an organization may not be operating for charitable purposes, is making misleading solicitations or is ignoring requests to be placed on a "do not call" list, contact your state Attorney General, your local consumer protection office or the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
* This information given by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can be viewed on their website at:
More Hurricane Katrina Donation, Volunteer, Support and Relief Information.