BBB advises donors on tsunami relief efforts

March 11, 2011

Damaged homes

Dramatic news of the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan early today has prompted many Canadians to consider making donations to charities that provide relief to survivors. BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay warns consumers to be cautious, as fraudulent charities often crop up to take advantage of sympathy for earthquake victims.

“In the wake of a natural disaster, our Canadian generosity prompts us to step up and donate our money and time to victims,” said Kara Hendriksen, spokesperson for BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenays. “Unfortunately, this generosity is often exploited by scammers; that’s why it’s important that you do your research and ensure your donation is going towards trustworthy relief efforts.”

BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay offers the following tips to help Canadians decide how and where to direct donations:

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
The public can go to the Canadian Revenue Agency to research charities and relief organizations to verify their accountability. Beware of other third party opinions, as they may not have done complete research.

Avoid charities that have sprung up in response to the disaster.
Donating money to established national and international organizations that have experience in delivering aid is the best way to go. Be wary of imitation charities, as some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.

Read the fine print before donating by text message.
It’s a quick and easy way to donate, but be sure to read the fine print before donating by text message. In Canada, a charity must include the details of their text campaign on its website so you can see what you’re signing up for and how funds are being directed. If you want to make sure that the charity you’re donating to via text message is legitimate, check out

Be cautious when giving online.
Proceed with caution when giving online, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization.

Be wary of claims that 100 per cent of donations will assist relief victims.
If a charity claims that 100 per cent of collected funds will be assisting flood victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

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