Avoid Gulf Coast Oil Spill Scams

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Every day seems to bring more bad news about the oil spill in the Gulf Coast, and now six weeks after the spill began, frustration in this country seems to have reached a fever pitch. According to ABC News, a recent poll has found that 69% of Americans believe this crisis has been handled poorly. By comparison, 62% of Americans felt the same way about how the government handled the Hurricane Katrina aftermath when asked back in 2005.

Many Americans have already expressed an urge to run down to the Gulf and help in the cleanup effort, but early volunteers have been turned away both because of safety concerns over the health effects from the oil, and because these volunteers would require specialized training.

So, in the meantime, the best thing you can do to help out is to give money to the charities assisting in the disaster relief effort down in the Gulf. But before you open your wallets, you should be mindful of where your money is going.

While there may be other charities out there doing good work with the Gulf, the area is also flooded with inexperienced groups and even scam artists looking to make an extra buck off the crisis. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans should avoid any volunteer opportunities that require them to pay an upfront fee to join or charities that insist on an upfront donation. (Similarly, those filing claims for damages in the Gulf should beware of any government official who asks for a processing fee upfront.)

Similarly, the Better Business Bureau cautions Americans to find out if the charity is directly involved with the Gulf relief effort or just acting as a “middleman” to raise money for another organization. If it’s the latter, you’d be better off giving your money directly to the other organization. Similarly, the BBB urges consumers to stay away from “well-intentioned but inexperienced organizations” that are just now popping up to help with the crisis.

A spokesperson for the BBB mentioned the example of Deborah Ponceti, a Florida resident who decided to start a site called FriendsofFlorida.com to raise money for the relief effort. In particular, Ponceti wants to use the money to buy panty hose to make booms that can be used to block off the spill, and to rent boats to lay down the booms in the ocean. Ponceti claims to be doing this because she doesn’t have “a lot of confidence in the government,” but whether or not that’s true, she has yet to officially register her organization with the state.

“The woman is probably well-meaning, but she’s not a registered charity nor is she authorized to lay out booms to catch the oil,” said Alison Southwick, a spokesperson for the BBB. “In fact, BP has flat out said that they are not going to use the hair-filled booms that people across the country have contributed to, much to the disappointment of many people.”

If you are interested in giving money to the relief effort, the Better Business Bureau has compiled a list of more than a dozen reputable charities that are working with the Gulf Oil Spill, including Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation and the American Bird Conservancy.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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