COLUMBIA — In the wake of Monday's tornado in Oklahoma, the Better Business Bureau is advising potential donors to take precautions against scammers.
Several Columbia residents were contacted by people claiming to be associated with both the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, according to an American Red Cross news release. Scammers email, text and call potential victims following disasters in order to steal credit card and identity information.
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance suggests donors follow these tips to avoid scammers:
- Be cautious when donating online: Donors should avoid spam messages, emails and social media posts. Instead, donors can make donations directly on a verified relief charity's website.
- Rely on experts: Donors are advised to avoid third-party recommendations for charities which might not have been researched completely. A list of accredited charities and relief organizations can be found on www.bbb.org/charity.
- Stay skeptical: Some charities will claim that 100 percent of donations will go towards disaster relief, but charities have fundraising and administrative costs. If a donation is made with a credit card, the company will charge a processing fee.
- Research: Donors should check if the charity has a physical presence in the affected area. Unless the charity is already present at the disaster site, bringing in new assistance may be difficult. Charity websites should say what the charity can address immediately.
- Find out about the middleman: Some charities will act as a middleman to provide a donation to another relief organization. The ultimate recipients of donations can be found, and donors should donate directly to them.
- Material donations can be difficult to process: Donors offering food and clothing for relief drives might want to avoid doing so until an organization has the ability to pass on the donations. Donors should ask charities about their transportation and distribution plans; some of these charities might not be experienced with disaster relief.
"The first clue that the call is a scam would be if (the) person calling claims to represent the Red Cross and the Salvation Army," said Clayton Kennedy, of the American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter, in a news release. "The Red Cross and the Salvation Army have their own fundraising programs and would not combine their efforts."
The BBB advised donors not to provide any information or donations until the charity or relief organization can be verified.
"There are 1,000 different ways people can scam others, and this is just one of them," BBB investigator Bill Smith said Thursday. "Everyone is a potential victim."
Verified charities and organizations will have an accredited charity seal on their websites. This seal indicates the charity meets the BBB's charity accountability standards, according to the news release.
The Red Cross does not accept donations over the phone or solicit by going door to door, Kennedy said. The Red Cross only solicits via email to those who have already donated and asks new donors to make donations on the Red Cross website.
The organization cautions donors to verify charity information such as its name, address and telephone number. The Red Cross also suggests donors avoid immediate donations because scammers pressure people into giving money immediately.
"Don't succumb to pressure," Smith said.
The Salvation Army solicits donations through mail and email but will only accept donations online at www.tsacentralmissouri.org or through the mail, said organization spokeswoman Cynthia Chapman.
The Salvation Army is on the ground in Moore, Okla., and branches in Oklahoma and Arkansas have been distributing meals to victims of the tornado. Crews are also providing clean-up and hygiene kits and first-aid supplies, according to the news release.
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance provided a list of tips to avoid donation scams.
Fraud and illegal solicitations can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or the Columbia Police Department at 442-6131.
Donors can also contact The Salvation Army at 442-3229 for more information.
Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.