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Donating to wildfire relief? Watch out for scammers

Wildfire-in Forest Flames on Ground 1105209_1280Millions of acres of land across the West Coast, especially in Southern California, are continuing to burn and evacuations are still being ordered for many homes as the flames are being battled by firefighters.

There are more than 100 active large fires in California, Oregon, and Washington. High temperatures and wind conditions are contributing to fires.

If you want to help impacted families, firefighters, or both, here are some suggestions from the Better Business Bureau:

  • Give to established charities – Charities with experience in handling disaster situations will be more likely to be able to provide assistance quickly and effectively. Be cautious of new organizations that make promises to help without any connections, budgets, or plans.  
  • Volunteer and offer gifts in kind – If you live near the impacted areas, one alternative could be to donate non-perishable food to help feed those battling the blaze or clothing to those who have lost their homes. Contact charities such as the Salvation Army and United Way to find out more.
  • Be wary of vague appeals – Watch out for vague appeals that don’t describe the intended use of funds. For example, will they be used to help displaced families cover temporary housing, rebuild burned communities, or help address other needs? Also, unless told otherwise, donors assume that funds collected quickly during a disaster will be spent just as quickly.
  • Crowdfunding cautions – For crowdfunding postings, it’s always safest to contribute to people and/or families that you personally know that have posted pleas for financial help. While some crowdfunding sites take precautions in carefully screening postings after a disaster, others might not. If unsure, review the posting procedures described on the crowdfunding site and also find out about transaction fees and other specifics. If the posting claims they’ll be forwarding funds to an existing charity, consider cutting out the middle man and visit the website of the charity directly.
  • Financial transparency in disaster relief – After funds are raised to address a disaster, it’s vital for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until financial statements are available sometime in the future.

The following organizations are BBB accredited charities, which meet the 20 BBB standards for charity accountability, and currently have a website homepage that announces they’re collecting funds to assist those impacted by the West Coast wildfires.

Americares

American Red Cross

Direct Relief

GlobalGiving

Salvation Army

Copyright 2020, Rita R. Robison, Consumer and Personal Finance Journalist

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