BBB Warns of Potential Charity Scams as Province Hit by Massive Wildfires

July 17, 2017

London, ON - Thousands of British Columbians have been forced from their homes due to the massive wildfire activity in the province. This, of course, means pressure on support groups like the Red Cross and local community centres. However, when disasters hit, scammers are ready and willing to take advantage of Canadians’ good nature.

“Social media is filled with people opening their doors or their wallets for those in need,” says Linda Smith, CEO of BBB Serving Western Ontario. “But the sad reality is that some bad people are going to use this as a chance to scam people.”

In the wake of natural disasters, Canadians have opened their hearts. Thousands of Canadians have offered money, goods, or their homes to those affected by the devastation in BC. But BBB offers a warning – when disasters occur fraudulent charities and scammers often pop up, so BBB offers tips to ensure to ensure your contribution gets to those in need.

“We are always on the lookout for scams involving financial donations,” says Smith. “We have seen plenty of fraudulent crowdfunding sites set up as well in the past after disasters such as wildfires. It’s easy to do. We just need to exercise caution before handing over money or credit card information."

When being asked for donations, BBB offers the following tips:

Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to unsolicited email or text messages or social media posts that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website. In response to other disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Nepal earthquake, law enforcement raised concerns about new charitable organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.

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 bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. At a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations, to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other supplies.
Drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those organizations who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

The Red Cross is responding to meet the needs of communities affected by the fires by:

  • Providing registration services on behalf of the Province of B.C. and encouraging ALL evacuees to register with them.
  • Registering will help us know where everyone is and that they’re safe. It will also allow us to contact people directly as more information and assistance become available. It also allows us to help reunite families separated by the disaster.
  • Activating its disaster response volunteers.
  • Having additional volunteers and supplies pre-positioned across the country ready to be deployed, if needed.