Products from shoes to bathroom scales have built-in tweeting, and at least one innovator has created an app that tweets everything that he watches around the house via TiVo. It may make your head spin to think that the same microblogging service helped serve as the groundwork for revolution in the Middle East as well as a key tool for finding loved ones after the tsunami in Japan. Obviously, not all tweets are created equal. It should come as no surprise, then, that scammers are always waiting to exploit the next big tragedy via these networks.
Here are a few tips to help you stay safe while assisting others:
– If you are being solicited by a stranger for donations, consider who they may be and what their credentials are. You can never be too careful with your financial information.
– Use reliable and reputable sites to research any charities to which you are considering contributing.
– If you have trouble finding a relief effort that you can verify as legitimate, turn to major organizations such as the American Red Cross. (Best Buy recently donated $100,000 to this group for storm relief efforts)
– If you do not want to donate via credit card, consider a text message donation. (More on this below)
– If you live near an area affected by a natural disaster, such as the recent wave of tornadoes in the south, search Facebook for groups that are organizing volunteer efforts.
Most tweets and Facebook posts soliciting donations no longer redirect you to a website where you enter a lot of personal information, or even to a PayPal link to donate directly through that method. Many of these solicitations now take the form of “Send ‘KEYWORD’ to 12345 to donate $5 to the relief efforts.” The phone number is a “short code,” which is a shortened phone number specifically designed for receiving text messages. This donation method sounds so easy… so how does it work?
Text message donations have been around for several years, but only recently came into the mainstream after the Haiti earthquake. The way these work is simple. First, you send a specific word to a specific phone number. Then, the donation will appear on your cell phone statement. This is an easy way to donate from the road if you can’t get in front of a computer, and most major charities and disaster relief funds have this capability. As always, make sure you check the legitimacy of the campaign before donating! We’ve included two resources below to help you get started.
http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/ – The Better Business Bureau’s U.S. charity division, a repository of information about legitimate and illegitimate charity efforts .
http://blog.charitynavigator.org/2011/04/us-tornado-disaster-relief.html– A list of some charities and what they are doing to help with the storm relief efforts.