Tag Archives: Fraudulent Charities

Haiti earthquake relief: texting to donate.

I think it’s pretty cool that technology has come to a point where you can now donate money to help victims of a natural disaster by texting a single word to a number (the charges show up on your cellular bill).

At the very least, it demonstrates that text messaging can be used for something beyond teenage cyberbullying and ZOMG-ing.

I know of two confirmed, legitimate ways to donate this way. The first is by texting HAITI to 90999. This number was set up by the American Red Cross, and will add $10 to your next bill.

The other is by texting YELE to 501501. This will donate $5 through Wyclef Jean’s Yéle Haiti Foundation. Jean is a native of Haiti, and he set up the Foundation in 2005.

These are the good guys.

However, you know there are going to be some people who try to turn a profit from this technology. It may not be as easy as setting up a fake website, but there are plenty of companies that are willing to do that which is skeevy, and are already set up with “text X to Y to get Z” services.

Most likely what will happen is a bunch of not-so-charitable charities will set up numbers that are similar to the real ones, and end up donating 1% of their income from the campaign.

You know those ads for ringtones that MTV is literally lousy with these days? I wouldn’t put it past some of those companies to set up a mostly-fake Haiti earthquake charity. They’ll probably sign you up for some $20/month “Worst Music in the Universe Ringtones” service while they’re at it.

Seriously, if you’re considering donating in this way, my first advice is to just use the two numbers listed above. Or you could skip the texting and donate online (is that the “old fashioned way” already?):

If you see a “text to donate” number that isn’t one of the two I mentioned above, be very cautious. Check it out before you do anything, and read the fine print carefully. Google exists. Use it.

And, seriously, if the word “ringtone” appears anywhere in the request or in the fine print, it’s one of those scummy companies (scumpanies?) whose commercials make MTV unwatchable. Well, that and the execrable programming.

Haiti Earthquake Scams: another preemptive strike.

I haven’t seen any specific scams of this type yet, so think of this as one of those “you know it’s going to happen, so be prepared” moments: The FBI is already warning consumers about possible Haiti Earthquake Scams. Le sigh.

Here’s the deal—if you get an unsolicited (you didn’t request it) email requesting donations for victims of the recent Haitian earthquake, or if someone contacts you via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) asking for help, just don’t respond. The odds that it is a scam are just too high to risk it.

If you are approached by a charity you believe is legitimate, ask lots of questions. If they’re honest, they won’t mind providing information. However, I still wouldn’t donate to these requests, either.

If you really want to help, contact an organization you already know and trust, and donate without them asking you first. Make sure you’ve got the name of the organization correct before you act—scam charities sometimes change one small word in the name of a well-known charity in an attempt to confuse people.

There is a long list of organizations involved in relief efforts here, from MSNBC. I’m not familiar with most of these, and I’m not endorsing any one in particular or vouching for what they do.

We are in an age where every natural disaster, every new government action and every new technology is immediately assimilated by criminals looking for easy money. If you want to help out in Haiti, contact your favorite charity today. Don’t wait for someone to ask.

Avoid charity scams this holiday season.

The holiday season is a time when concept of “giving” seems to come up a lot.

Hey, I’m all for it, too. Every single one of us, without exception, has something we could use to help someone else in our community, our country, or our world (“We are all connected,” after all). If “giving” was my main topic today, I would probably mention that there are people in need all year round, not just during November and December, but since it’s not, I won’t.

Instead, I’m going to talk about charity scams.

You see, two forces collide during the holiday season:

  1. The fact that a lot of people are thinking about “giving” more than usual
  2. The fact that there are people in the world who will do literally anything to line their own pockets.

It’s sort of a perfect storm.

However, there are some incredibly easy steps you can take to make sure you’re donating dollars to people who are in actual need, instead of donating to some crook’s wallet.

First, you could just decide ahead of time which charity or charities you’re going to support, and contact them yourself. If other organizations ask for donations, simply explain that you’ve already given what you had budgeted for the year. Legitimate charities will understand. Anybody who won’t accept this explanation is not to be trusted.

Secondly, consider donating something other than money. Food banks (like this one) can almost always use someone to help out at their distribution centers for a few hours, and there’s always the classic “helping out at the Soup Kitchen” scenario. Call or email organizations in your area and find out what sort of in-kind donations they’re looking for.

These two methods of giving are pretty safe. Scammers are looking for the easy money—they’re not going to set up an entire working food bank in hopes of skimming a few hundred dollars. However, there always seem to be a lot of opportunities that spring up on the spur of the moment this time of year.

First off, be cautious of charities that contact you via email. Most legitimate charities aren’t going to seek new donors this way. However, if you’ve given to an organization before, they might use email, since it saves them money on postage. Still, never respond directly to an email soliciting donations—use the organization’s official website or phone number, which you should use a source other than the email message (phonebook, Internet search, etc.) to find.

Always ask what percentage of your donation goes to help whoever the charity is supposed to help. If they’re on the up-and-up, they won’t mind the question. An angry or otherwise negative answer is a warning sign.

Donating by check is recommended over cash, as it gives you a way to track your donation for tax deduction purposes. However, never make the check out to a person—always write it to the organization.

I would also suggest going one extra step and paying by cashier’s check, to keep your checking account number out of general circulation, but if it’s an organization you trust, you can make that call yourself.

Watch out for fake charities using names that sound similar to real ones. Sometimes the difference between “foundation” and “center” can mean the difference between your money being used for the greater good, or just ending up in some dirtbag’s pocket.

Check out any charity with the Better Business Bureau before you donate, and I would also suggest doing a general Internet search. Sometimes you’ll find “Scrooge Lists” that call out charities who only pass on a tiny portion of their proceeds to the people they’re supposed to be helping. Be especially wary of any organization that claims to be raising money for disabled or retired police officers or firefighters or their families. A lot of these so-called charities are scams, plain and simple. What would you call a charity that keeps over 98% of its proceeds? 

Finally, as a general rule, never respond to an unsolicited charity request without doing some homework first, no matter who the person contacting you claims to be. Know who you’re donating to before you send a single dime.

Once you’ve verified that you’re dealing with a legitimate charity, however, have at it—give as generously as your conscience dictates.