The last few weeks have been heartbreaking, with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and historic earthquakes in Mexico. For Long Islanders with memories of superstorm Sandy, the devastation is familiar and your empathy may make you reach for your wallet.
But truth is, even in times of disaster, some people look to line their pockets with money intended to help those in need.
Before you do your good deed . . .
Check out the organization: Amish Mehta, leader of the not-for-profit practice at Friedman LLP in Manhattan, offers a few recommendations. “The IRS, in response to the recent hurricanes, has issued a warning about possible fake entities and offers a search function that verifies the status of recognized charities, Exempt Organizations Select Check.” Find it at apps.irs.gov/app/eos/. Guidestar and Charity Navigator are two other favorites. “These resources can help you determine which organizations utilize the largest share of your donations as aid after overhead costs,” Mehta says.
Research what the charity actually does: Not every charity responds to a disaster in the same way. Some provide medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short-term or long-term rebuilding efforts. “Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work,” says Dean Hart, president of Long Island Citizens for Good Government in Long Island.
- Watch out for charities with names similar to nationally known organizations; this is a popular trick.
- Never pay with cash or directly through Facebook or Twitter.
- Write a check or pay by credit card so you’ll have documentation in case it turns out to be a scam.
- Don’t donate over the phone. Often, a third-party telemarketer is making the call, and they may be keeping a chunk of your donation.
- Beware of anyone pressuring you to donate immediately, asking you to wire cash or offering to send a courier to pick up your donation. These are all signs of a scam.