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BBB: Be Careful With Disaster Donations, Rebuilding

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Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
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As people generously open their pocketbooks and give towards tornado relief in Century and Pensacola, the Better Business Bureau is reminding them to be careful not to misplace their kindness.

Let’s begin with cash donations. To ensure your contribution is tax deductible, you should give to charitable organizations that are tax exempt: 501(c)(3) charities. Tammy Ward at the BBB’s Northwest Florida office says also give locally, where you know how your money will be handled. And watch out for red flags.

“If they get a phone call out of the blue and possibly a ‘robo call,’” says Ward. “But also if they’re asking you to donate right away or do it over the phone either with a bank account or a prepaid card, anything like that.”

Another red flag is when they skirt around your questions about their group, or they ask if you can donate online or just send in the money. Your best bets in giving cash, says Ward, are either paper or plastic. 

When you hear the phrase “Storm Chasers,” normally you think of people, usually scientists, who jump into a vehicle and follow a storm or tornado’s path to gather data. The BBB has a different definition: those who drive for hours looking for storm victims and promising to repair roofs, fences and remove trees. First, check their license plate to see where they’re from.

“Not only check their license plate, check their license and also make sure they’re insured,” Ward says. “It’s very easy to do. Now you can just take their license number, and get their insurance information. You find the phone number, don’t let them give you a phone number to call.”

You can find that phone number either online or in the Yellow Pages, and make sure they’re up to date on their insurance coverage.

Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. Another good thing to do is to get everything – literally everything – in writing before they start any work, and don’t pay in whole up front.

“A small payment may be necessary, but not a large payment up front,” Ward said. “Make sure everything’s in writing, but before you sign make sure that if you have any questions about what’s in their contract, that you get those answers to your satisfaction.”

Beware of high-pressure to sign right away. This is a sign to look at an offer even more carefully. And, just to be on the safe side, ask the contractor about a warranty before agreeing to any other terms. When the project is finished, Ward says withhold final payment until the work is inspected by a professional.

Given this area’s recent past – Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, tropical storms, the 2014 flood and now two twisters in as many weeks – Tammy Ward at the BBB is optimistic that residents know a disaster scam when they see it.

“Even if the victims have so much going in their heads, they’ll have friends that will says to them, ‘Hey, make sure that you do this, or make sure you do that,’” said Ward. “Being neighborly, but also covering themselves and looking out for our neighbors.”

More information on disaster relief donation and rebuilding can be found at www.bbb.org, and by calling the Northwest Florida office at 429-0002.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.