The devastating typhoon in the Philippines has left survivors scavenging and looting for food and water five days after one of the strongest storms in history slammed the center of the country. Estimates for the death toll of Typhoon Haiyan range between 2,000 to 10,000 and the Red Cross says 22,000 people are missing.
It's clear the people hit by the tragedy need aid, but unfortunately, many people take advantage of such tragedies and use them to scam unwitting people who want to help. Metro spoke with Miranda Perry, a staff writer at Scambook, on how to avoid common pitfalls when donating money to relief efforts.
Don't click links: Don't click on a link your friend sends you or one you might see on Facebook. Even a well-meaning friend may accidentally send you to a "spoof" website, said Perry. Spoof websites are sites that mimic those of big organizations and copy logos and layouts from a group like the American Red Cross, for example. Perry suggests opening a new window and going directly to the organization's website instead.
Keep an eye on the URL: When you're entering credit card or personal information, check your browser URL for "https" at the top instead of "http." Perry said, "Scam sites tend to not have secure connections." Also, check and see if the website is hosted in the appropriate country. Perry said, "If it's an American Red Cross website with a .ru URL, that's a sign you're not on a legitimate site."
Do your research: Make sure you know what organization you're donating to. Scambook recommends contacting the State Attorney General or the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) to find out if the organization is officially registered. Perry also said watchdog websites like guide and charitynavigator.org are great at monitoring donation websites. You can also visit www.whois.com/whois/ and search for the website domain - brand new sites are more likely to be a scam. Perry said, "The easiest way is to take a step back and think about if it's an organization you've heard of before. These tend to be the best charities to donate to - that's why we suggest charity organizations like the Red Cross.
Don't donate person-to-person: Scambook writes that one common scam is to post a heart-breaking story through social media and e-mail along with a link to donate money. Don't donate directly to someone who claims to be a victim online unless you know them personally - Perry added that you're not necessarily safe donating through PayPal, though you do have a window of time during which you can dispute a transaction. Also, if someone texts or calls pressuring you to donate and gets hostile, it's unlikely they're from a real charity.
Wait it out: Perry pointed out that there's no need to donate right this second. "People hit by the typhoon need more money and other donations after the first immediate days, so if consumers have doubts about an organization they can wait and donate a little later because this will be ongoing for months if not years." She added that one of the easiest ways to avoid a scam is simply by exercising patience and doing extra research.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark