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Oliver: Be careful when donating to tornado-related charities

More than a week has gone by since a monster tornado bore down on Moore, Okla.

The twister, more than a mile wide when it hit the town of more than 56,000, left 24 people dead, injured more than 350 and wiped out at least 13,000 homes.

More than a year has passed since a tornado ripped through the heart of the small town of West Liberty, Ky. Despite a concerted effort to put the town back together again, reminders of the storm remain.

No doubt it will take Moore years as well to fully become normal again.

Yet, one can’t help but be heartened by the community spirit displayed there, as well as anywhere natural disasters strike.

Time and time again, when our neighbors are threatened, we stop everything and help.

In Moore, scores of people rushed to the Plaza Towers Elementary School to rescue the children who were trapped there. Those whose homes were spared raced to the parts of town where help was needed.

Even more people have showed up in the days since to help with the cleanup.

The same sort of response took place in West Liberty, in Joplin, Mo., and in Harrisburg, Ill.

One has to wonder why that spirit of “we’re all in this together” can’t last.

Certainly a lot of us want it to, which is why we want to donate to help those who are suffering.

Unfortunately, those who are not so charitable want to take our money and run.

That, too, has happened time and time again.

That’s why Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office issued a warning last week about scams tied to Oklahoma tornado relief.

Madigan offers these tips when choosing where to donate:

• Donate to charities you know and trust.

• Be especially careful online. Make sure that the website belongs to a legitimate, established and registered charity, and that the website and the charity match. Also, make sure that the site is secure.

• Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, GuideStar and the Attorney General’s Office.

• Do not donate if a solicitor uses high-pressure tactics, asks for cash payment or insists on sending someone to pick up your donation. These are hallmarks of a scam.

• Ask how much of the donation will go to charitable work and how much will be used to pay for fundraising costs. If you don’t get a clear answer, or don’t like the answer given, consider donating elsewhere.

• Never send cash. And don’t give out personal or financial information until you have reviewed all the information from the charity and verified that it is legitimate.

Madigan also encourages donors to contact her office’s Charitable Trust Bureau to report suspicious solicitations at 312-814-2595.

More guidance about charitable giving also can be found online at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/charities.

When disaster strikes, it’s natural to want to help in any way we can.

Unfortunately, these days it’s also smart to make sure that we don’t become victims ourselves.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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