Thousands of people are suffering in the Philippines in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. At least 2,000 are feared dead, although estimates have reached as high as 10,000.
The heart-wrenching photographs and blood soaked headlines are enough to provoke even the casual news consumer to contribute to any sort of financial aid. New technology and social media have made sending $1 or $10 to "charitable" organizations easier than ever — a fact not lost on scammers willing to profit from misery.
"One of the problems is that we've entered into the digital age with a high level of trust," Angie Barnett, president of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, said.
Scam artists looking to collect on donations meant for victims of natural disasters will often scrape compelling photographs, or videos from the websites of reputable organizations to appear legitimate.
"Some have similar sounding names to big organizations… that's a red flag," Raymund Flandez, a staff writer covering the intersection of technology and charity for The Chronicle of Philanthropy , said.
The "Red Cross of the United States" is not the same as the American Red Cross, for example.
The number of website addresses containing the words "Haiyan," "typhoon," "disaster aid," "Philippines," and "relief" has soared, Barnett said.
And the news of aid delays for up to 2 million people in remote locations of the Philippines is tugging at heart strings and wallets across the country.
With that in mind, the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland released a list of the top five mistakes people make when donating to charity after a natural disaster.
MISTAKE #1: MAKING A DONATION DECISION BASED SOLELY ON CHARITY'S NAME.
A standard rule to abide by is don't go with a charity in which the domain name contains the name of the disaster itself. So don't give to "HaiyanRelief.com" or "HelpTheVictimsofHaiyan.com."
"It could be a start-up group with little experience or a questionable effort seeking to gain confidence through its title," Barnett said. "If in doubt, ask for the organization's Form 990, a tax return charities file annually with the IRS. This form provides transparency in the dollars raised – and where they are directed."
MISTAKE #2: COLLECT CLOTHING AND GOODS WITHOUT VERIFYING THAT ITEMS CAN BE USED.
Relief organizations often prefer to purchase goods near the location of the disaster to help speed the rate of delivery, according to the Better Business Bureau. Think about the cost of shipping extensive cargo long distances. Cash is king.
MISTAKE #3: SENDING DONATIONS TO INEXPERIENCED RELIEF EFFORTS
See: Mistake #1. Also, here is a list of the most trusted charities for Typhoon Haiyan relief .
MISTAKE #4: RESPONDING TO ONLINE & SOCIAL MEDIA APPEALS WITHOUT CHECKING.
As of Wednesday morning, Facebook inserted a direct link to send $10 to the American Red Cross to provide aid for Haiyan relief. The American Red Cross is among the most trusted organizations globally, so why not contribute directly just to be safe?
While this may not apply to Facebook, "Common tactics used by scam artists include phishing email with alleged links to disaster video which if clicked, releases malware into your personal computer," according to the BBB. "Social media mentions of bogus donation websites which collect money and shut down without a trace."
Barnett said scammers are in the business of "throwing up websites" and "collecting credit card numbers."
MISTAKE #5: DONATING WITHOUT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK.
To hammer the point home, a couple in New Jersey ripped-off donors to the tune of $600,000 under the guise of Hurricane Sandy relief. They used the money to pay off their credit card debt. New Jersey government officials have since opened 210 cases against the couple, although the money has not been returned to the donors, and only 1 percent has been contributed to relief efforts.
To make the vetting process easier, Flandez suggested the following three charity rating websites, which perform regular due diligence:
"More than that, do a Google search to see if they've made any strides in what they do. … That's basic due diligence," Flandez said
Readers can report possible charity scams here .
Guidestar spokeswoman Lindsay Nichols said, "We all give with our heart, but unless we give with our head too, we're essentially wasting our hard-earned money."
Guidestar's tips for giving with your heart and your head can be found here .