Think before you donate to Haiti - or any other cause

The moment tragedy hits, the first instinct for many is to ask how they can help. Sadly, this need to assist victims of tragedy is a goldmine for criminals seeking to capitalize on the suffering of others. The horror in Haiti is no different, and scam artists are more then willing to help you donate every penny, not to the people of Haiti, but to their own filthy greed-driven pocketbooks.

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake has left thousands feared dead, and thousands more lost in the destruction in and around the capital Port-au-Prince, home to some 1.9 million people. Communications are poor, at best, and there are conflicting reports on the status of infrastructure and, more importantly, the health of the people themselves.

Some are left with a sense of sadness and a sudden need to help when they see reports of such chaos and destruction. The stark images of the dust-covered wounded, the panic in the eyes of the people searching for loved ones, or the raw fear associated with seeing a mother grieving for a lost child -- it all pushes the desire to do something, anything to help.

This need to do something, the urge to heal yourself and help heal others, is the exact need criminals are counting on, and they will use anything they can to part you from your money and prevent it from reaching those who need it.

They will call for aid with a knock on the door, a phone call, an email, and even posts on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter, all urging people to give and give, and give some more. There are certain suspect websites, collecting funds at this exact moment, in the name of helping those in Haiti and other places around the world. Yet not one of them will take what you give and distribute it accordingly. Instead, they will keep your money to fund the ongoing scam, and, of course, themselves.

The nicest thing you can call the operators of these sites and scams in print is scum. The real definition of these people I cannot write.

If you want to help, there are some things to consider. Sadly, the harsth truth is that you simply cannot help everyone everywhere. After that, remember the tragedies of the past, and the fraud associated with them. The Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina are perhaps the most recent examples, but even the terrorist attacks of 2001 had a great deal of fraud associated with charitable relief.

“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities,” said Art Taylor of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

While we here at The Tech Herald encourage you to help others in need, be it the people in Haiti or those in your own neighborhood, you should use some caution selecting a charitable organization to take your donation. To help avoid the scum running the scams, we've put together some general tips for making donations.

Go to the organizations you know. The American Red Cross is one such organization. World Vision and World Emergency Relief are two others that are well-established and known for running legitimate operations. When it comes to mission statements, select the organization that aligns with your own beliefs and with your own cause. You should also know if the organization asking you for a donation has locations or access to the place or people in need.

Know the difference between a charity that is raising funds directly or for other groups. There is a difference, and it will determine how your money is spent. If you want to donate to a single group or cause, then stick to a charity that's collecting for that cause alone.

The money you send should go to the actual recipients, not to the organization. However, even charities need to spend money to operate, even if the staff are unpaid. So an organization that is promising 100 percent of the donation to the recipient should be checked out.

“Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred,” notes the BBB.

If you use the Internet to donate, you need to ensure you're on the correct site, such as, and when presenting payment information, make sure the connection is secure. However, if you are in doubt, skip the online donation and call the organization directly. Almost every major charity is listed by your local BBB and also in the phonebook.

There are some mobile carriers that allow donations via cellular phone. At the same time there are also scams allowing you to pay the criminals with your phone as well. Again, be cautious. 

Officially, texting '90999' along with the keyword 'Haiti' will donate $10 USD to the American Red Cross. Verizon is reporting that as of 17:00 EST on Wednesday, customers had already donated $300,000 USD in less than 17 hours. If you want to call, you can, the number is: 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767).

[Note: The information related to the Yele Haiti Foundation was removed. I have pulled it because of keyword related scams using the foundation to spread Rogue anti-Virus applications. -Steve]

Never be afraid to ask questions. An above board organization will answer any questions you have, and will do so, not just because it wants your money, but because it has nothing to hide. If you cannot contact an actual human to discuss the organization’s mission, goals, and reach, or locate any details on or offline about them, be skeptical.

Never be afraid to say no to any organization that is seeking donations. Some charities operate like a high-pressure sales pitch, which helps no one. Lastly, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind, never donate more than you can afford. While helping others in need is a wonderful thing, doing so at the expense of your personal or family’s wellbeing is a tragedy on its own.

One way to check out a charity is to look at the BBB (The Better Business Bureau); however, those in the U.S. can also head over to the IRS and research organizations that way too. Donating is a wonderful thing, just keep a level head at all times and hopefully you'll avoid the scams.

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