ATLANTA - Americans are at their best during natural disasters.
We give and we give wholeheartedly. But this can also be a windfall time for scammers. They quickly get into position to take what you want to give. They know that pictures that we're seeing of the disaster make us want to send money, supplies, or offer a helping hand. But before you grab that credit card or dip into your wallet, step back and assess the situation.
We are going to cover three main areas here: how to pick the right charity, red flags for fake charities and donations to avoid.
The experts at Atlanta-based CARE respond to international disasters. The organization is well-versed in what works and what doesn't and they will tell you "cash is king."
"Long after those news crews have gone and those are gone, those images that are in people's minds are gone, people are still going to need help. And so, a donation like cash can help with those short-term lifesaving needs and down the road in helping them to rebuild their homes," said Holly Frew, a communications manager for CARE.
And they'll tell you to give only to reputable groups. Well-known entities. Not sure what that means? Check out CharityNavigator.org. It's the largest, independent charity evaluator. And right now there is a special section on how best to give to Hurricane Harvey efforts.
Warning signs. Ripped off names. Some phony charities use similar names and emails addresses of well-known groups, but they're not the same. They're slightly off. Don't give out personal info like your social security number or checking account number. When giving money do it through a check or credit card. You don't actually give cash.
And here's what folks in disaster ask you not to do: Don't send things that will impede the process. After Hurricane Sandy folks were sending old things they no longer wanted. There was a chandelier donated, even many pairs of high heels. When things like this get sent volunteers have to sort through it and it takes up time and storage space. Some people nicely want to send toys for the children. This is not the time. It's about survival.
Go through a credible organization. Do your homework. The folks at CARE warn: Don't go it alone.
"Don't just get in your car or truck with a bunch of items because, again, that can cause more harm than good. You can add to the chaos of a disaster situation. You can yourself get stuck in a flooding situation. To respond to a disaster requires professionalism. It requires skilled volunteers," Ms. Frew added.
Now if an organization asks for specifics then, sure, send. Something that might be requested could be diapers, baby wipes, maybe formula. But again stick to cash unless there is a specific request.