When donating to victims of tragedies, how can you be sure your money reaches the right people?

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Monday, January 30, 2023
How to be sure your donation reaches the right people in a disaster
Many want to donate to victims and their families when tragedy strikes. Here's what to know about giving safely.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- California has been hit with one disaster after another in this short new year: first the epic storms, then two mass shootings in less than a week -- one here in Half Moon Bay.

As always, many of us want to find some way to help victims of major disasters as quickly as possible. And as always, fraudsters will take advantage and set up fake websites or fundraising campaigns. The Better Business Bureau says to be careful not to fall for a scam, and to make sure your money gets to those who really need it.

Powerful storms swept the state for weeks, toppling trees, flooding homes, sending houses down hillsides.

The storms finally stopped, but relief was all too brief. A mass shooting killed 11 in Monterey Park. Then, another mass shooting killed seven in Half Moon Bay.

"What next, you know? Everything's getting thrown at us," said John Williams of Half Moon Bay.

"I felt like we were kind of on the other side of the storms and starting to rebuild, and then this happens," said Hannah Huckabee, also of Half Moon Bay.

Fundraisers are springing up for victims of the shootings and the storms. The Better Business Bureau says to be sure you're giving to real victims.

"As humans, our nature is to help wherever we can," said Alma Galvan of the Better Business Bureau. "So unfortunately, there are people that take advantage of the situations in which some of us were facing, and they create fake websites to take donations from for people. They create fake stories."

"Make sure that your dollar that you're donating to these charities does actually go to the actual cause. And that, you know, you don't fall victim to the stories that we do here, unfortunately," Galvan said.

Scammers often create fake websites or social media posts claiming they're raising money for victims.

"Make sure that it's actually connected to the cause. A lot of times they either have the cities incorrect, they have the zip codes incorrect, and the images are super distorted," Galvan said. "Those are huge red flags."

Scammers also hack into social media accounts and send direct messages to the group asking for money to help a victim.

"Doesn't take more than a minute to verify that this is actually a situation and a true story that they're posting on social media," said Galvan.

Fake fundraisers may use stolen or stock photos to make stories seem real. A Google search of the photo can show the true source. One image on a fake listing, for example, turns out to be a stock photo used on dozens of sites.

Other tips:

  • Donate only on secure platforms that encrypt your bank information. The URL should begin with h-t-t-p-s and show a lock icon in the corner.
  • Also, find out how much a crowdfunding platform takes in fees.
  • Remember that donating to a non profit is tax deductible, while donating to a specific person is not.

"And if you don't have money to donate, giving your time and giving back to the community is just as I'm sure thankful," said Galvan.

Which is exactly what folks in Half Moon Bay are doing. "I'm actually bringing coffee and breakfast to the families," said Hannah Huckabee.

The BBB also warns that these fake fundraisers not only want your money -- they want your ID and banking information. The BBB provides a list of charities that meet standards for accountability and are raising money for storm victims.

Statement from the Better Business Bureau:

Transparency timing is important.

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until financial statements are available sometime in the future.

The following organizations are BBB Accredited Charities (i.e., meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability) and currently announce on their websites that they are collecting funds to assist with California storm relief efforts. Additional BBB Accredited Charities will be added as we learn about flood assistance efforts.

For more information and to look up other Accredited Charities please visit give.org.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

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