personal finance

Beirut Explosion: Avoid Charity Scams

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

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., 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 and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. 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. 

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. 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.)

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