Pittsburgh, PA – As we continue to hear reports of the devastating wildfires in Australia that have destroyed about 18 million acres of land, it’s common for people to want to help in any way possible.

Many donors are moved to provide assistance for displaced families and wildlife, as well as for firefighters that are battling the blazes, by contributing to fundraisers. Unfortunately, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.

“Your Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance strongly encourage donors to research and contribute to experienced organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, particularly in the wake of disasters,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “Experienced relief organizations are more likely to provide quick and effective assistance. Newly established entities may be well-intentioned, but may not have the skills and infrastructure to provide immediate help.”

To help donors make informed giving decisions, BBB offers the following advice:

Investigate before you consider a crowdfunding donation. In the wake of a major disaster, thousands of crowdfunding postings quickly appear, which can include scams or poorly conceived fundraising projects. Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job of vetting postings and projects than others and they typically charge various processing fees that may reduce donation amounts. Review the crowdfunding site’s description of its terms and procedures and check to see who is behind the crowdfunding appeal to consider whether that person or group might legitimately represent the named charitable cause. See if the posting claims to help a specific individual/family/group or whether it claims to be passing on funds to a designated charity or charities. If a charity is named, consider making a direct donation to that organization, after checking them out, rather than relying on a third party to carry out your giving intentions.

Determine how funds will be used. Whether you donate to a crowdfunding request or directly to a charitable organization, vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should be a yellow caution light. For example, will the funds be used for firefighting activities, temporary housing for displaced families, food, medical expenses, reconstruction or other relief activities? Could donations be used for long-term recovery programs, or not? Thoughtful requests for funding will identify genuine disaster needs and response abilities, and communicate clearly about intended donation uses and plans for funding distributions.

Don’t assume pictures are used with permission. Unfortunately, some crowdfunding postings may be using pictures of victims without the permission of their families. As a result, you can’t assume the poster has an official connection. As a donor, it is up to you to approach with caution, especially after a disaster or tragedy.

Your contribution may not be deductible as a charitable gift. If a crowdfunding post or a charitable appeal is claiming to help a specific individual or family, donors in the U.S. generally cannot take a federal income tax deduction, even if the individual or family is in need. See IRS Publication 526, page 6, for more information on this subject. However, if you are giving to a charitable organization that is helping a group of needy individuals and you are not restricting your gift to a specific person, then you can generally take a deduction. Keep in mind, if the charity is not located in the U.S., in most cases a gift would not be deductible even though a charity is receiving the contribution.

Research Australian-based charities. If you considering donating to an Australian-based charity, check out the registry of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. While the registration with this government agency does not mean the government is recommending or endorsing the charity, it does signify that the group has filed the appropriate paperwork with this agency. There are also local Australian fire service entities known as “brigades” that accept donations to carry out various services. If you wish to support such entities, visit an official Australian government link such as the following: NSW Rural Fire Service. Be cautious about appeals from those claiming to raise funds for Australian firefighters without any official connection to them.
Visit give.org for additional tips and to research national charities that are accepting funding to help address the Australian fires.

###

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2018, people turned to BBB more than 173 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.4 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including your BBB Serving Western Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1931 and serves the 28 counties of Western PA.