Looking to help victims of the British Columbia forest fires?

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    BBB helps donors make wise donation decisions 

    As the smoke from the ravaging forest fires that continue to destroy parts of British Columbia casts a haze over parts of Alberta, B.C. residents are facing the cold, harsh reality of lost homes, businesses and belongings. Unfortunately, scammers posing as legitimate charities target the vulnerable and the generous by setting up disaster-relief organizations, ultimately taking people’s hard earned money.

    Before making a monetary or in-kind donation, BBB says it’s crucial to investigate before you donate.

    “Whenever tragedy strikes, so do scammers,” says Mary O’Sullivan-Andersen, president and CEO of BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay. “Scammers prey on peoples’ generosity, emotions and willingness to help. The best way to help the victims and their families is for donors to give wisely so their gifts can do the most good.”

    BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers donors these tips for disaster relief giving:

    * Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website.

    * Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. In Canada, all charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to Give.org to research relief organizations and other charities to verify that they are accredited by BBB which means they meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

    * Be wary of claims that 100 per cent of donations will assist relief        victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 per cent of collected funds will be assisting victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses.

     * Find out if the charity has an on-the ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

     * Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

    * Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

    * Donate to recognized charities with a history. Charities that spring up overnight in connection with a recent natural disaster or news story may disappear just as quickly with your donation. Even if the charity is well-meaning, it may lack the infrastructure to provide much assistance.

    * Be wary of charities with names that are similar to the names of well-known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations to gain your trust.

    * Don’t give out personal or financial information. This includes your Social Insurance Number or credit card and bank account numbers – to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you.

     * Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by cheque or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through many official charity websites. Look for signs that the site is secure, such as a closed padlock on the browser’s status bar, before you enter any personal information. When you are asked to provide payment information, the website URL should change from http to https, which indicates that the transaction is encrypted or secure.

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