Personal Finance
Give, but beware of scams
September 18, 2001: 6:52 p.m. ET

What you can do to help
By Staff Writer Annelena Lobb
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Americans across the country have opened their hearts and their wallets in response to last Tuesday's disasters. The American Liberty Partnership, a coalition of national charities, raised $57 million for relief efforts, much of it in individual donations of $30 to $50.

The United Way created the September 11th Fund, which has collected more than $89 million. And as of noon Tuesday, Americans had contributed $118 million to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

But these organizations all stress that cash donations remain a pressing need. "We have raised a lot of money," says Darren Irby, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. "But we're still helping people with disaster relief efforts for the Oklahoma City bombing -- and that was six years ago."

  • American Red Cross
  • American Liberty Partnership
    Individuals can also contact their local Red Cross and volunteer their time, though they may need training. Don't worry it's not too intensive, usually requiring anything from an 8-hour video course to a few sessions of in-house training. "There is a very real possibility that people can help," says Irby.

    Beware of scams

    In your haste to give, however, beware of proliferating charity scams. Unsolicited bulk e-mail and online postings asking for money in the name of victims or the American Red Cross are common. So are door-to-door or telephone solicitations.

    "Sometimes the messages asking people to give to the Red Cross are legitimate, from people taking it upon themselves to gather donations," says Phil Zepeda, director of online media for the American Red Cross. "But scams are out there."

      graphic HOW DO I AVOID SCAMS?  
        Source: Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance
  • Beware excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations
  • Do not give cash -- give a check or money order to the charity
  • Ask how much of your donation will be used for relief and how much will go toward other programs or administration
  • Access reports on national charities at
  • Don't give out your credit card number
  • Ask for written information that describes the charity's programs and finances
    The Better Business Bureau has issued guidelines for consumers who want to ensure their money is going to the right place. Some pointers? Don't give cash, don't give out your credit card number, and don't hesitate to ask for written information about the charity program or its finances. "It is critical for donors not to succumb to pressure to make an immediate decision without first checking out soliciting groups," says Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

    And check to see if the organization you chose is listed on, the search engine that powers and Guidestar lists over 700,000 charities that have 501-C3 status that means that these organizations have charitable status from the IRS. Donations to these organizations are also tax-deductible.

    "It's hard, because everyone wants to think about the tragedy, and no one wants to think about due diligence," says Debra Snider, Guidestar's vice-president of non-profit services. "But that's what our site is for to find out if the organization is legitimate." graphic