COLORADO SPRINGS — For the last week we've been able to get instant updates as the battle in Ukraine plays out on the other side of the world. Some of the messages going out to us include the need for donations as hundreds of thousands of people try to get to safety. Consumer experts are warning people to be careful acting on emotion and say it pays to do your research before donating cash.
"People are going to be taken in by these images that are very disturbing and I have to say even I, a tried and true veteran of the charity watchdog world for the past 20 years, have had to stop myself," said CharityWatch Executive Director Laurie Styron.
Her organization keeps an eye on non-profits and she works to help people find legitimate donation web sites and charities. She says when it comes to donation efforts tied to the crisis in Ukraine, there are ways to identify organizations who can help the most.
"You need to donate to an organization that has experience either in the region, or has international experience with aiding victims of a crisis or a disaster because I've seen many highly rated charities are kind of getting into this fundraising crisis without really having a clear plan of what they're going to do with the money," said Styron.
With every major disaster, there's always the possibility that scammers will pop up in an attempt to cash-in on your generosity.
"We actually have investigators here on staff that dig into this stuff," said Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado Executive Director Jonathan Liebert.
He says the BBB in our area is already tracking concerning reports.
"We are aware of reports of people receiving specific messages on social media directly from somebody from Ukraine saying my family and I, my daughter, my kids, very descriptive, very much please please please send me money. My kids can't eat. Usually what we're hearing is they are requesting the money in bitcoin," warned Liebert. "They are trained and ready to go and they are set up for this type of scam."
Charity experts say there will be long-term needs as a result of the events in Ukraine. So take your time to make an educated decision with your donation dollars.
"Just avoid the gimmicks," said Styron. "If you see things online like buy a digital Ukrainian flag and we will donate a certain amount of money to something."
There are red flags to look for and tools to help you understand where your money is going.
"Do that homework. Double check the website. Make phone calls if you have to. Whatever you do, please don't send gift cards, don't send money orders, wire transfers. These are all red flags for some of these situations where people can take your hard earned cash," said Liebert.
Remember, this isn't a warning just about scams, but about truly understanding how your donation dollars are spent, even with a legitimate charity.
The good news is there are several tools to help you understand where your money will have the biggest impact.
Here is the latest from CharityWatch on donation advice tied to the Ukraine crisis:
The Federal Trade Commission suggests you use these websites to research organizations and lookup how much is spent on programs and services versus overhead and fundraising:
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