Better Business Bureau warns of fake charity scams during disaster

BBB: Check backgrounds beforehand

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When disaster strikes, the people of Jacksonville step up to the plate to help. Whether the disaster is in the form of a hurricane in our own back yard, or miles from the shores of Jacksonville in Oklahoma, people want to help those in need. 

Before handing over hard earned cash to help the victims of the tornado, the Better Business Bureau is putting out a warning to think twice before you donate to a charitable organization.

The BBB told Channel 4 Tuesday night that when disasters happen, con-artists work to con people into making donations to fake charities.

Con-artists are known to use names like "Red Cross of America" instead of "American Red Cross", as a quick and confusing way to get money.

Tom Stevens with the BBB said crooks can not only walk away with donations, but personal information too.

"The thing you have to be careful about is them pressuring you to give them money right now," said Stevens. "If it's a legitimate charity, they're going to use the money tomorrow as they do today."

Stevens said thousands of Americans want to help tornado victims in Oklahoma recover, but don't always do their homework when it comes to exactly who and where their money is going.  

"If they're not familiar with a charity, if they can't tell you exactly what they're going to do when they get there, or what they're already doing, then demand or ask them to send them their plan in writing," said Stevens. 

One of the fastest ways to check and see if a charity is legitimate is by going to Give.org.

The website is run by the BBB and allows you to check the name of the charity and it's reliability. The BBB offers consumers some other advice on giving wisely. 

According to the BBB people should give directly to a charity instead of hired fundraisers. The BBB gives warnings to be wary of claims that says 100% of donations will go to the victims. Organizations typically have administrative costs and fundraising fees. 

People making donations should ask if the charity is providing direct aid or if they're raising money for other groups. They should also find out if the charity has an on ground presence in the disaster area. 

"If they don't already have boots on the ground, then they're going to spend a lot of money you give them getting their boots on the ground," said Stevens. "So you're much better giving the money to an organization, to someone who's already there doing things, than one who's planning to go there a week from now."

Some of the well-known and respectable charities that people can safely donate to in order to help the victims in Oklahoma are: 

  • Feed the Children: An Oklahoma City based group that is collecting money to feed displaced families
  • Operation USA: Sending emergency, shelter and cleaning supplies to the hardest-hit neighborhoods