Terrible tragedies — from natural disasters to wars and crimes — happen, and with them, forces of sympathy often drive people to look for ways to help in whatever way. But while people are swept away with emotions and desire to extend a helping hand, it is important to make sure that they are not falling prey to phony charitable organisations and scammers.
That is not to say that you should hold off on doing the right thing of being there for other people who are in a tough spot, but still you must do your due diligence to ensure that you are not wasting your money or handing it to scammers. How could you know that your donation is going to end up serve your goal as intended in helping those affected with a particular crisis? Keep the following points in mind:
If you feel strongly for the children affected with political unrest in Syria, Chile’s earthquake victims or just poor people around the world who struggle every day with shortage of basic life needs, be proactive. If you begin your search by looking at credible organisations locally and internationally that work on the ground in any of these places, you have a better chance of making an informed decision regarding how to make your donation achieve its goal. Specifically, you should look for previous records of these organisations, call to get answers to your questions and check their practices and reputation.
In addition, when you’re proactive you are more likely to avoid scammers who typically hide behind anonymous emails and phone calls. Keep in mind, dealing with emails that solicit money for charity doesn’t only risk wasting your particular amount of donation, but they also may risk your computer system, your financial information and anything that the scammers can get their hands on during the transactions.
What is the right charity?
There is no right answer to this question. Any organization or group that’s credible, not affiliated with questionable political groups or shady practices can be a good choice. But ultimately it is a personal decision. Your pick can be anything that resonates with your interest — from helping the elderly to doing research on a particular disease or disorder. Regardless, while no choice is right or wrong, it is important to double check to what extent these charities are contributing to your interest in terms of deliverables. Once again, that is something that you will need to investigate by researching the charity and perhaps attending some of its open events. By doing so, you may find that you can even help in various other ways that go well beyond writing a check.
The choice is again yours. Local agencies may be easier to verify, but many well-established international ones can also be interesting for their wider outreach and abilities to work with causes and regions that need your help. In today’s world where technology helps bridge distance, you can simply look up many organisations, send emails and even make relatively inexpensive phone calls to international organisations to discuss your interest to donate or help otherwise.
Regardless to whom you work with, always be aware of what should get you concerned — at least financially. Red flags include a request to send your donation in cash, requesting financial details like bank account number, ID number, etc. that are not relevant to your donation, and requesting to accept a wire transfer to your bank account on behalf of the organisation or a contact person. If you’ve concerns about the organisation or its staff, you should immediately report your concerns to the authorities — Dubai Financial Services Authority, for example, for Dubai’s residents. When you do so, you make sure that you protect others and help the system weed out scammers and let sincere charities do their job.
Rania Oteify, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently a Seattle-based editor.