(Clarification added 4/18/13)
It’s only human nature to want to help out victims of a disaster, but tragic events also bring scam artists out of the woodwork. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, an outpouring of support has prompted numerous charitable campaigns: some legitimate, others not.
The Better Business Bureau says it’s already seeing charity scams and expects more to come. The BBB says social media is a favorite tool of scam artists today because it’s a good way to reach a lot of people quickly, and the willingness of people to take action makes it easy to prey on their emotions.
Within hours of the attack, Domains.com says more than 125 Boston-related domain names were registered, including several with words like “relief” or “help” in the name. There were reports of at least one fake Twitter account (since shut down) and a warning about a link circulating via email claiming to be video footage of the bombing that really installs malware on the computers of people who click on it. (Although this last instance isn’t charity-related, opportunistic cybercrooks often do use seemingly-legit solicitations for donations in phishing attacks following disasters.)
Avoid Getting Scammed
The BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance says you should take precautions before making a donation to any organization claiming to raise funds for victims of the bombing.
- Give to established charities, or vet any unfamiliar ones before giving. Make sure they have nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. Most states require charities to register themselves, usually through a branch of your state attorney general’s office. Check there, as well as with sites that evaluate nonprofits. (These include the BBB’s own Wise Giving Alliance at give.org, CharityNavigator.org, CharityWatch.org, GuideStar.org, and FoundationCenter.org.) One factor to consider is what percentage of donors’ money goes to their cause, as opposed to administration and other expenses.
- Sometimes, victims’ loved ones or communities will set up fundraising campaigns. These informal charitable efforts can be worthy causes, but the BBB recommends making sure that a CPA, lawyer, or other experienced professional is overseeing the collection of donations. Also keep in mind that your donation may not be tax-deductible.
- Don’t donate via a link that pops up in your email inbox; it could be a scam that takes you to a mirror site and steals your money (or infects your computer with a virus or worm). Instead, go directly to a charity’s website, and make sure the page where you provide your credit card information starts with “https” instead of just “http,” indicating a secure page.
Where to Give
Boston.com has an extensive round-up of local organizations accepting donations, including funds that have been set up to help some specific families. Can’t donate money? It include links on where you can go to donate blood, as well.
Here are a few notable organizations that are matching some contributions:
- The Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, will match donations up to $100,000 through their foundation.
- Patriots player Vince Wilfork also is soliciting donations through his nonprofit foundation, which usually fund-raises for diabetes; it asks people to give $10 by texting “VINCE” to 50555. Wilfork matched the first $10,000 raised.
- Massachusetts nonprofit Technology Underwriting Greater Good is diverting its usual fundraising efforts in the wake of the bombings to raise money for victims and their families, working with the city government and local hospitals to identify who ost needs assistance. TUGG and its fundraising partner are chipping in the administrative and credit card processing costs so 100% of donations go where they’re needed
An earlier version of this article did not mention that the BBB Wise Giving Alliance is itself a charity review service; and gave the inaccurate impression that BBB had recommended the other services.