We've stressed the importance of donating cash rather than goods in times of disasters. But, beware of people who set up phony charitable organizations to scam generous donors. The problem is so serious that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate and prosecute these cases.
Be careful about responding to e-mails that solicit donations on behalf of people claiming to be victims of a natural disaster. The e-mail may not only be a front for a scam operation, it could contain computer viruses or worms. Also, pay close attention to the name of the organization soliciting donations. Scammers often use subtle misspellings of recognized international organizations to fool unsuspecting donors [source: USDOJ].
Texting is a simple and fast way to contribute to a cause. But again, watch out for phony organizations that will run up texting charges on your phone. This is known in fraud circles as "cramming" [source: Oregon Department of Justice]. If you notice odd charges on your phone bill, notify your carrier immediately.
If you feel leery about donating cash because you don't recognize the name of the organization (or even if you do, you aren't sure of their track record), you can run a background check using sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator. They'll tell you how long the charity has been in business, what percentage of donations go to administrative costs and other useful information.
Author's Note: 10 Worst Things to Donate After a Disaster
The most important thing I learned writing this article is the danger of being half-right. We are absolutely right to assume that supplies like extra clothes, blankets and nonperishable food are critical following a natural disaster. But we are wrong to think that the best way to get those goods to the victims of a disaster is by donating them ourselves. In fact, by taking the great initiative to collect, pack and ship donations to a disaster area, we are making life much more difficult for the overwhelmed relief workers and volunteers on the ground.
- American Humane Society. "About Animal Emergency Services." (Jan. 29, 2013) http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/programs/emergency-services/about-animal-emergency-services.html
- American Red Cross. "Red Cross Issues Progress Report on Sandy Response and Recovery." Jan. 29, 2013. http://www.redcross.org/news/press-release/Red-Cross-Issues-Progress-Report-on-Sandy-Response-and-Recovery
- Brown, Kristin V. "Teddy bears and toys inundate Newtown." The News-Times. December 27, 2012. (Jan. 28, 2013) http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Teddy-bears-and-toys-inundate-Newtown-4149992.php#ixzz2JNqLpHVJ
- City of Joplin. "Joplin, Missouri hit by EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011." May 24, 2012. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.joplintornadoanniversary.com/resources/city-of-joplin-factsheet5-14-12.pdf
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. "When Disaster Strikes... How to Donate or Volunteer Successfully!" August 2007. (Jan. 28, 2013) http://www.fema.gov/pdf/donations/when_disaster_strikes.pdf
- Fessler, Pam. NPR. "Want to Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes." November 16, 2012. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.npr.org/2012/11/16/165211607/want-to-help-sandy-victims-send-cash-not-clothes
- Haygood, Wil; Scott Thompson, Ann. "'It Was as if All of Us Were Already Pronounced Dead.'" The Washington Post. September 15, 2005. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/14/AR2005091402655.html
- Hayward, Allison. "Why Disaster Victims Don't Need Your Blankets Or Your Band-Aids." The Student Doctor Network. November 21, 2012. (Jan. 28, 2013) http://studentdoctor.net/2012/11/why-disaster-victims-dont-need-your-blankets-or-your-band-aids/
- Holguín-Veras, José. "The donations Sandy's victims don't need." Los Angeles Times. November 3, 2012 (Jan. 28, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/03/opinion/la-oe-holguin-veras-hurricane-donations-20121104
- Indiana Department of Homeland Security. "Unsolicited Goods Hinder Recovery Effort in Missouri." June 2, 2011. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=33897&information_id=67933&type=&rss=rss
- Jacob, Binu et al. Public Health Reports. "Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment." September-October 2008. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2496928/
- Kessler, Brandie. New Haven Register. "Want to help Newtown? Donations, yes. Teddy bears, no." Jan. 1, 2013. (Jan. 28, 2013) http://www.westhartfordnews.com/articles/2013/01/01/news/doc50db35f63b795455663300.txt
- Los Angeles Time. "Woman swept to sea by rogue wave in Humboldt county." L.A. Now. Jan. 27, 2013. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/01/woman-swept-to-sea-by-rogue-wave-in-humboldt-4th-death-in-months-1.html
- Oregon Department of Justice. "Disaster Relief Scams." (Jan. 29, 2013) http://www.doj.state.or.us/consumer/Pages/disaster_relief.aspx
- U.S. Department of Justice. "Justice Department Officials Raise Awareness of Disaster Fraud Hotline." November 1, 2013. (Jan. 30, 2013) http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/November/12-crm-1308.html
Tiny houses are proving homes for people nationwide. HowStuffWorks goes inside the movement.