FTC warns Americans about charity scams related to the Syria/Turkey earthquake

Photo (c) Kip Godi - Getty Images

Charity watchdogs offer their picks for charities

The earthquakes in Syria and Turkey are sad enough as it is, but what scammers are doing to exploit the generosity of people to help and donate is a catastrophe of its own.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning kind-hearted Americans to stay vigilant and make sure they understand how to make sure their money helps those people in need.

Here’s what the agency shared with ConsumerAffairs about how to spot and avoid a scam:

  • Don’t make donations in cash, by gift card, or by cryptocurrency. Once you do, you’ll probably never get that money back.

  • Whoa -- Slow down. A frequent scammer trick is to try and build immediacy into the situation, but because donations have to go through a process before they ever wind up on a survivor's doorstep, donors don’t have to give immediately. Before clicking "Send" on a donation button, search online for the name of the charity you are interested in supporting, plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.” See if others have had good or bad experiences with the charity.

  • Take a look at what charity watchdog groups say about the organization. Just because a charity has a familiar-sounding name or a professional pitch is no guarantee it's for real. "Don't assume that familiar-sounding names or messages posted on social media are legitimate. Donate to charities you know and trust and with a proven record of dealing with disasters," Gema de las Heras, a Consumer Education Specialist at the FTC, said.

  • Ask how your money will be spent. If someone calls to ask to donate, they should be able to answer how much of your donation will go to the program you want to help, and other critical questions like "Will my donation be tax-deductible?" (you can find out here) and "What is the charity’s exact name, web address, and mailing address?"

  • Look at fees and timing if you’re donating through an online platform or social media. The agency says people would be smart to check whether their donation will go directly to the charity -- and if not, how long it will take to get there, and if there are fees that the donor would have to pay.

Need suggestions of valid charities?

To make sure that donations are getting to the charities that can help the Turkey/Syria situation the most, CharityWatch identified charities that spend at least 75% of their cash budgets on programs; that maintain fundraising efficiency of $25 or less to raise each $100 in cash donations; and meet CharityWatch's governance and transparency benchmarks. That list is available here.

CharityNavigator has prepared its own list, available here.

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