Insights & Analyses

Amid Texas tragedy, here’s how you can help by identifying legitimate charities

August 29, 2017

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump dozens of inches of rain on Houston and surrounding areas in Texas, Americans looking to pitch in and aid the recovery efforts should use caution to avoid scammers looking to exploit the natural disaster.

Trusted charities assisting with ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in Texas include The Greater Houston Community Foundation, United Way of Greater Houston, and The Salvation Army.

But those are just a few of the charitable groups raising money for relief — online organizations, crowdfunding efforts, and local fundraisers have made the business of giving complex, making it difficult to determine which fund is best, or legitimate at all.

Before you donate, research the organization first. Even if the charity is a known brand, you may find that your money and interests are best suited elsewhere, depending on the cause.

A few options available for easy research include Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and Charity Watch. You can also see if a charity or fundraiser is registered in your state via the National Association of State Charity Officials.

Via U.S. Department of Defense

Typically, a charity spends about 75 percent of its budget on programs — a good measuring stick for comparing options. Remaining funds typically go toward administrative costs and fundraising efforts.

Unfortunately, disasters like the ongoing flooding in Texas bring about charity scams, where none of the money raised actually goes toward the cause.

The problem has been amplified in the digital age, where anyone can start a crowdfunding campaign and generate buzz online. Malicious scammers have also become more complex, baiting well intentioned, charitable people into sending money or providing credit card information through authentic-looking emails or websites.

To help prevent donators from being ripped off in the wake of Harvey, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission this week issued a reminder to do research before donating. The commission also issued a series of tips on how to deal with charity scams. Some of the advice includes:

  • Only donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record of dealing with natural disasters.
  • Find an organization that lets you designate the disaster, to ensure the money is not going toward a general fund.
  • Avoid email scams — don’t click links or attachments from unknown senders. When in doubt, just manually search for the charity’s website.
  • If you’re donating through a text message, confirm the number with the source before you make your contribution.