Thursday, January 14, 2010

7 Ways to Avoid Scams & Find Legitimate Charities Now Aiding Haiti's Earthquake Victims

by Janis Brett Elspas

This is a followup to my MommyBlogExpert post earlier this week mentioning the website listing more than 200 organizations that are currently seeking help for Haiti's earthquake victims.   

Now that we are in the midst of the tragic results of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which has been followed by some strong after shocks causing further damage, injuries, and loss of life.  As of this blog's posting, the American Red Cross alone has raised for than $35 million already, but more help is desperately needed.  It's only natural that many of us want to just jump in and lend a hand.  But, before we act, keep in mind that the potential for scams taking advantage of this situation is rising, so everyone should be extremely careful and do your own homework before giving to any groups soliciting funds or material items for this (or any other) cause.

To lessen the chance that you will be victimized, here are some guidelines to follow when donating money/items to help Haiti's residents to ensure that it doesn't end up being used for something other than the legitimate charitable cause you intended it for

  • No matter how heart-wrenching their stories are, never respond to donation appeals from individuals whether in-person, by snail mail or by email, if you do not know the person making the request directly.
  • Since there are plenty of legitimate U.S. organizations raising money for Haiti right now that you can easily contact, it would likely be safer and also tax-deductible to donate only through charities that are U.S.-based or at least U.S. branches or affiliates, rather than give to organizations rooted only in Haiti (or any other country other than the United States)
  • Before giving money to any U.S. organization (whether you are approached in-person, by mail, or via the Internet) confirm that the charity is legitimate by checking to see if it is designated by the IRS as a 501 (c) non-profit.  If you donate to an organization that is not on this IRS list, or to a foreign group with no U.S. ties, there is still the possibility that it could be a real cause, but your donation will probably not be tax-deductible.
  • Consider giving through an organization that you have already had personal experience with before.  Examples include, but are not limited to such groups as your local school, church, synagogue, or other organization in your hometown such as scout troups, that you know to be legitimate and that you've donated to before, asking them to earmark this particular contribution to aid the Haitian Earthquake.
  • Do not fall for appeals for money/items on blogs, websites, Twitter, Facebook or other social networks, either, unless you have a direct connection to the person asking.  Just because the person or group is connected to someone you actually do know, doesn't mean they are legitimate.
  • To find worthy charities to donate to, visit the websites of the major aid groups such as the American Red Cross.  Another good resource are online organizations such as, which does everything it can to connect donors with  501 (c) non-profits and currently lists more than 200 Haiti causes that currently need assistance.  But they, and I encourage you to always do your own homework, too, before giving.  You'd be surprised about how fast you can find out what you need to know just by Googling and visiting some online sites.  
  • If any group soliciting money seems suspicious, it probably is, so consider going with your gut reaction and looking into other charities to contribute to instead.  To check for rumors and other suspicious information circulating on the Internet you can also check websites such as to confirm if there's any truth to all the chatter you've heard.
In summary, give generously, but be sure to do your homework first.  Remember, there is no lack of legitimate organizations that are actively gathering badly-needed funds for Haiti right now, and your money will make the strongest impact if it ends up in the right hands.   Lastly, keep in mind that giving money or items aren't the only ways you can help.  Local Red Cross chapters need volunteers and donated blood is also in great demand right here in the U.S.

I look forward to your comments and welcome additional suggestions on ways to make sure that Haiti gets all the help it needs to rebuild and rehabilitate.


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