Beirut Explosion: Avoid Charity Scams

With the recent explosion in Beirut kicking off calls for aid, beware of scammers trying to take advantage.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After any disaster, many Americans open their hearts and wallets. During the pandemic alone, giving had reached $10.2 billion (by early May), with $6 billion of that coming from the U.S. (opens in new tab), according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

But this generosity is often preyed on by scammers. If you're planning to donate in the wake of the recent explosion that rocked the port of Beirut, it’s important to do your due diligence. Fake charities and victims tend to pop up overnight, waiting to take advantage of folks' generosity. Here’s how you can protect yourself.

Vet the charity. When in doubt, donate to well-known charities. If you’re unsure of a charity’s standing, check reviews on watchdog websites such as Charity Navigator (opens in new tab) and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (opens in new tab). And keep your perspective open on those reviews, too. Don’t rely solely on one person’s review. Read through the charity’s website and search the news to see if it’s been involved in problems.

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Social media and crowdfunding. If you’re seeing more relief requests via social media, be wary of handing over your cash. Check to see if the charity or cause listed has a working website. Do not click on links sent to your email, or in social media messages and comments. If there's a name listed, search the name, then go directly to the web site.

Be particularly wary of new organizations or ad-hoc fundraisers run through websites such as GoFundMe (opens in new tab). While GoFundMe guarantees that funds will go to the beneficiary, not the campaign organizer, and will refund up to $1,000 to donors if there is evidence of misuse, the cause itself could be fake, so always cross check the information across various platforms.

And last but not least, don’t feel pressured to give if someone is badgering you. Do not give cash, gift cards or do a wire transfer. It’s best to pay by credit card or check. Remember to keep receipts of your donations to charities that are tax deductible. When charities confirm your gift, they should indicate how much of the donations is tax deductible. (Note that donations to GoFundMe campaigns, when they're collected for a private individual or company, are not deductible.)

Rivan V. Stinson
Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Rivan joined Kiplinger on Leap Day 2016 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. She's now a staff writer for the magazine and helps produce content for Kiplinger.com. A Michigan native, she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 and from there freelanced as a local copy editor and proofreader, and served as a research assistant to a local Detroit journalist. Her work has been featured in the Ann Arbor Observer and Sage Business Researcher.