It's a sad fact that tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. While most respond with a surge of generosity, there are always scammers ready to take advantage of the quick impulse to give. So it is with the Boston Marathon bombings: Enormous outpourings of generosity from around the country have been tempered by warnings of fraud.
"I'm stunned that people think this is a time to defraud people," says Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. Fake charities create names that sound like legitimate charities, she adds, and the Internet makes it easy to reach the masses quickly, while people have the impulse to help.
Don't give impulsively
"I wouldn't just click or tweet or text donations to anyone," without doing some research, Heisman says. GuideStar and Charity Navigator are two websites that provide information on legitimate charities and allow donors to give within just a couple of minutes, she adds. Local newspapers are also good at vetting and listing legitimate charities.
If you don't want to take the time to research, look for the local community foundation, such as the Boston Foundation, she says. These are regional entities set up to support long and short-term needs of the community.
Another solid bet is any charity that is set up by public officials in the aftermath of a disaster. In Boston, The One Fund has been endorsed by the mayor, Tom Menino, and is accepting money specifically to respond to the tragedy. According to The Boston Globe, the charity has already received more than $7 million. Other large charities such as the Red Cross are designed to respond to disasters, she adds.
Grassroots giving requires the most research
Heisman doesn't discount small charities, which she says "can do amazing work." However, these may be harder to check out and it's vital that you do that before donating. In addition, many small funds spring up to help individuals with health care needs. Be aware that donations to help individuals are not tax-deductible, she says.
Usually funds to care for individuals are set up through a bank and the local media will have news about those, Heisman says. Sometimes companies will organize employee donations that go directly to the bank's fund. Those are usually safe, Heisman says, but be aware that even though it's a fund, you might not get the tax deduction.
Finally, Heisman says that while there are immediate needs after a tragedy, there is plenty of time to give. In fact, she advises giving some money immediately and then waiting six months to give more. "Believe me, things that you never thought of always come up later," she adds. Once again, make sure you investigate where your money goes before donating. "I hate to put the onus on the donor," she says, "but unless you spend time researching charities, even if it sounds legitimate, don't send cash and don't give your credit card number."
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