Dos and don'ts of donating to charity

January 14, 2010 4:17:38 PM PST
The outpouring of support for the earthquake victims in Haiti has been overwhelming. In just two days, private citizens have donated four million dollars to the Red Cross for Haitian relief. In the days to come, dozens of organizations will pop up asking for donations for Haiti, but how do you know if your money is actually going to the right place? The best thing to come out of the disaster is the show of compassion from the average person, with $4 million already donated. While generosity is great, it can lead to scams, and even the FBI is telling people to be careful when giving.

The relief effort in Haiti is just getting started, but already millions of dollars have been donated to the American Red Cross. Ray Solis made a cash donation this morning.

He said, "These people need our help, you know."

Local Red Cross officials say they've seen donations from big companies and even little children.

"There was a little boy yesterday who came in with his piggy bank and he wanted to contribute," said Susy Smith with the Houston Red Cross.

After every disaster the donations typically come pouring in, and that's been the case with the Red Cross' cell phone text donation effort.

Smith explained, "In less than 24 hours over a million dollars was raised and that's $10 a pop."

The text donations can be made on any carriers cell phone.

AT&T spokesperson Dan Feldstein said, "If you donate the $10 to the Red Cross through text messaging, you will have that $10 show up and identified on your next bill."

While donating cash is the best way to help, the FBI wants you to know that disasters bring out scammers too. FBI officials say if you are donating money, go to the website of the relief agency directly. Do not follow any links imbedded in any email.

"Criminals will create mirror copies of legitimate non-profit charity and you will think you are donating to charity, when in fact you are just funneling money into the criminals' Paypal account," said Adrian Hawkins with the FBI.

If you are unsure of the relief agency's reputation, check them out by visiting the Better Business Bureau's charity tracking website.

Leah Napoliello with the Houston BBB explained, "You can make sure if they are legitimate and make sure they are spending at least, the BBB requires charities spend at least 65% on their mission."

For those interested in donation, we have links to websites that check out charities and also a link to the FBI for reporting any emails you get asking for donations that seem to be a scam. You can find these links on our Consumer Blog.