Online Giving in Times of Tragedy: Avoiding Charity Scams and Donating Safely

When tragedy strikes, the human spirit doesn't falter. As witnessed with recent events including the Boston Marathon bombings, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the garment factory building collapse Bangladesh, and the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, individuals and organizations emerge within those communities and across the world eager to lend a hand to those affected.

The Internet has helped make global giving and worldwide support possible. For example, when Japan was struck by a devastating tsunami in March 2011, SXSW conference organizers on the other side of the world in Austin, Texas created an online donation site,, hoping to raise $10,000, instead they raised nearly $130,000 from event attendees in just a matter of days. When the country felt the loss of an eight year old boy killed in the Boston Marathon attacks, they found comfort knowing that making a small donation online at might help his injured family members recover.

As the not-for-profit operator of the .ORG domain, Public Interest Registry has witnessed millions turn to the Internet to find ways to help and enable others to give in times of tragedy. Unfortunately, while many set out to make a difference, there are some who attempt to make a profit - creating online scams by developing websites that provide false information, pocket contributor donations or redirect to other non-related websites.

The Internet was created to be a collaborative tool, open to all, for the benefit of people throughout the world. Unfortunately, sometimes the potential for good cannot negate the instances of abuse that do occasionally occur. But the good is there, it always is, and by educating yourself on what to look for and what to avoid, you can find trustworthy online resources and make contributions that may have a profound impact.

If you are considering making an online donation, here are five things you should consider:

1. Confirm the organization's validity first
Do your homework and review the credentials of an organization before making a donation. Websites like,, and evaluate U.S. based charities and provide information on their practices which may help you make a decision about where to give.

2. Investigate how your donation will be used
Disaster relief exists in many different forms. Some charities focus on rescue efforts and medical needs while others provide food and supplies. All are important, but consider selecting a charity whose efforts most resonate with you. With that in mind, some organizations allow you to designate your contribution to a specific fund or effort. Consider telling the charity exactly how you would like your contribution to be used.

3. Be wary of stories and appeals communicated via exclusively through social media
Many people turn to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share news and get information about disasters and relief efforts, but as the content is typically not validated, be cautious of your resources. Faux images and stories have been known to go viral. At times, these posts simply misinform readers, but other times they are posted with requests for donations going to an unknown source. Research before clicking the donation link - verify the story and the supporting organization.

4. Research crowdfunding websites
Online fundraising platforms, or "crowdfunding" websites, allow users to collect donations online to support a given cause, such as the donation site mentioned above. 100 percent of the funds collected through this website will be disbursed to the Richards family. This is a great way for individuals to raise funds to support the issues that matter to them, but there is no way for the platform providers to guarantee information provided on donation pages is correct, or verify that all funds raised will go to the end recipient or organization. You should only donate to people and crowdfunding pages you know and trust.

5. Make your donation through a secure website
Before you click the "donate" button, make sure the transaction is secure. Online transactions are at risk of being intercepted by hackers and identity thieves without a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate. One way to tell if a website is secure is by looking at the URL. If there is a secure connection, the URL should begin "https" meaning that sensitive information like credit card numbers will be encrypted before being sent over the server.

We at Public Interest Registry understand the importance of having an online platform to advocate and promote a cause, and to turn to for information. In a survey we recently conducted through ORC International to measure the level of trust consumers have in online resources, 82 percent of respondents said that an organization's website is the most trustworthy place to get information on a charity or social cause. We could not agree more. That's why we are committed to helping to maintain the integrity of the Internet by providing a trusted place online for organizations and individuals to mobilize their audiences for the common good.

If you are looking for a way to contribute, below are a few .ORGs that are promoting the common good and making a difference in light of these recent tragedies:

  • Boston Marathon Disaster Relief: The One Fund Boston -
  • West, Texas Explosion Relief: The West, Texas Disaster Relief Efforts Fund -
  • Bangladesh Building Collapse Relief: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) -
  • Oklahoma Disaster Relief: OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund -
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