St. Louis, Mo., May 13, 2011 – As the crest of the rain-swollen Mississippi River moves inexorably toward the Gulf of Mexico, residents of flooded areas as well as those who want to help need to be aware of potential dangers left as the water recedes, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
Scammers often are quick to move into areas devastated by natural disasters, such as floods or tornadoes. Fly-by-night contractors may offer “deals” to those desperate to repair damaged homes and businesses, then fail to carry out the work. Fake charities may spring up to take advantage of the sympathy people feel for victims of the disasters.
“Pictures of homes flattened by storms or soaked in floodwaters can inspire donors to give to any charity that promises to aid survivors,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president & CEO. “But if a charity isn’t experienced in delivering aid or if it lacks the infrastructure to do so, the donors’ money may be wasted. Even worse, some ‘charities’ may actually be scams formed to line the pockets of the perpetrators.”
The BBB offers the following tips on making donations for flood relief:
- Rely on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The BBB provides a Wise Giving Guide to charities at stlouis.bbb.org/charity. The guide shows which charities are accredited by the BBB and whether they meet the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
- Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fund-raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.
- Be cautious when giving online to unfamiliar charities. After previous disasters, websites and organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims turned out to be scams.
- Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what it can do to address immediate needs.
- Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middle man and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to provide aid.
- Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations may not be appropriate. Unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief.
People who live in flood-prone areas should be cautious as they attempt to return home. Murky floodwaters can mask dangers to those who attempt to drive or walk through them, and moving water can sweep away a person or car.
Shady contractors also may be canvassing damaged areas. The BBB has the following tips for hiring contractors:
- Be cautious of door-to-door salespeople who use high-pressure sales tactics.
- Seek at least three bids from prospective contractors based on the same specifications, materials and labor needed to complete the project. Homeowners should discuss bids in detail with each contractor and ask questions about variations in pricing. The lowest-priced contractor may not be the best.
- Consumers should ask whether the company is insured against claims covering workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents. Consumers should obtain the name of the insurance carrier and call to verify coverage.
- Ask whether the contractor meets licensing and bonding requirements set by the state, county or city.
- Check with local authorities to find out whether permits are needed before proceeding with the work. The contractor also should be aware of any required permits.
- Ask whether the contractor will provide a lien waiver upon completion of the job. A lien waiver is a statement by the contractor that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work.
- Read and understand the contract before signing. Get any verbal promises in writing. Include start and completion dates in the contract.
- Remember the rule of thirds. Pay one third at the start of the project, one third when work is 50 percent completed and one third after completion.
For more information about charities or to get a BBB Business Review, check with the BBB at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, email@example.com, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org