In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many Americans are searching for ways to help the victims. The federal government advises that the best way to help immediately is to donate money directly to established national relief organizations. In a new Consumer Alert, “Helping Victims of Hurricane Katrina: Your Guide to Giving Wisely,” the Federal Trade Commission offers tips to help consumers give wisely. They include:
- Donate to recognized charities you have given to before. Watch out for charities that have sprung up overnight. They may be well-meaning, but lack the infrastructure to provide assistance. And be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar, or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
- Give directly to the charity, not the solicitors for the charity. Solicitors take a portion of the proceeds to cover their costs, which leaves less for victim assistance.
- Do not provide personal or financial information – including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers – to anyone who solicits from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you.
- Check out any charities before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureaus’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
- Do not give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through national charities like www.redcross.org/donate.
- Ask for identification if you are approached in person. Many states require paid fundraisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they are soliciting.
Copies of the consumer alert are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/katrinaalrt.htm and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.