One heartwarming story that has emerged from the horrific Indian Ocean tsunami is the unprecedented global generosity of individuals. Experts warn us, however, that aid scams follow closely on the heels of any tragedy.
Don't get taken in by unscrupulous scamsters -- follow our checklist of tips for effective and savvy donations.
1. Is the organization legitimate?
It isn't unusual for scams to mimic the names of legitimate charities, so if the name of the organization only sounds vaguely familiar, take the time to be sure. If you aren't familiar with the organization, don't donate to it without doing some homework.
If it's a door-to-door appeal, ask to see the solicitor's identification.
2. Does this organization have a track record in global aid?
There are a number of charitable organizations with established histories in international aid; they know how to mobilize aid to trouble spots as quickly and efficiently as possible. Less experienced charitable organizations -- however well-intentioned -- may not have that experience and might not be the best placement for your donation.
Don't hesitate to ask questions -- where will your donation go, and how much will be used to cover administration costs? If the disaster relief efforts are fully funded, what will happen to any leftover contributions?
3. A hard sell deserves a hard look
Strong appeals -- "give now or millions will die" -- to your emotions are a red-flag indication of a scam. Legitimate organizations usually don't pressure you with hard sell tactics.
4. Beware of those who ask for cash immediately
Scams will often solicit for cash immediately, even going as far as offering to send "runners" or couriers to pick up your donation. It's good practice to never give cash and to always make sure your cheque is payable to an organization, not an individual.
5. Still unsure?
Ask for written information about the organization. If the solicitor is reluctant to provide this information, your money is better placed elsewhere.
Aid scams not only cheat you, they take much-needed money away from needy victims of tragedy. Give generously, but make sure your donation goes to the people it's intended to help.
Aid Organizations with experience in global relief:
Canadian Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
Free the Children
Note as of January 6, 2005, Free the Children (founded by Toronto native Craig Kielburger) has enabled Canadian children to ship over $1,000,000 in medical supplies to help 10,000 children and families recover from tsunami related illness and injuries.