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Friday, May 24 2013 12:00 PM

Action Line: Beware of scams posing as tornado-relief efforts

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    By AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern

    Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City, Monday, May 20, 2013. A monstrous tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods with winds up to 200 mph, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

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    By AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern

    A tornado passes across south Oklahoma City, Monday, May 20, 2013. A monstrous tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods with winds up to 200 mph, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

    click to expand click to collapse
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    By AP Photo Sue Ogrocki

    A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

    click to expand click to collapse
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    By AP Photo Sue Ogrocki

    A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear readers,

This week we are taking a break from our traditional Action Line. Here is some helpful information to know before you give to any charity or solicitation that you may receive asking for aid to the Oklahoma tornado victims.

Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to unsolicited spam messages, and emails and 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 hurricanes Katrina and, Rita, and the Asian tsunamis, the FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new 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 www.bbb.org/charity 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 fun raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting disaster victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. 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 the very least, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations: In-kind 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 who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Additional resources

BBB Wise Giving Alliance is asking anyone who receives a suspicious charitable solicitation to report it to BBB Report a Scam.

BBB Mobile Giving Foundation offers opportunities to "text to give" to charities actively operating on-the-ground in Oklahoma and Texas.

BBB Mobile Giving Foundation also is a part of HelpBridge, a mobile app that helps family and friends stay in touch during a disaster, and assists in donations to qualified relief organizations. The HelpBridge app is free and available on iOS, Android and Windows.

Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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