Fort McMurray Wildfire: How to avoid donation scams

A burned out garden decoration is shown in the Abasands neighbourhood during a media tour of the fire-damaged city of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Monday, May 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press

It’s an unfortunate reality that fraudsters will look to take advantage of people’s generosity in the wake of a disaster.

There are already reports of false calls from charity groups and fake websites being set up in the name of helping the residents of Fort McMurray.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray Wildfire: How Canadians can help

There are many legitimate options to help the people affected by the fire, and Leah Brownridge from the Better Business Bureau has suggestions on how to ensure you do not fall victim to a scam.

She said a lot of the fraudulent groups are very good at impersonating very well-known, legitimate charities. Brownridge suggested double-checking the spelling of the charity name, and making sure that you are on a secure web page.

“You want to look at the top of the URL. If you are online, make sure it is a secure page where you enter in your payment information.”

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That can be confirmed through the closed lock on the left-hand side of a web address.

Example of a secure website with a closed lock by the address. Global News

Brownridge also said if you are dealing with a charity or group that is not as high-profile as others, you should stick to trusted individuals or someone you have dealt with before.

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Finally, the Better Business Bureau recommends never sending money through a wire transfer as they are very difficult to trace.

“While situations like these often bring out the best in people, they unfortunately also bring out the worst in some people,” the Competition Bureau said.

In order to ensure your donations go to legitimate charities:

  • Don’t give cash or financial information if you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a website, organization or individual;
  • Verify if the organization is registered in the Canada Revenue Agency Charity Listings;
  • Don’t click on untrusted links you receive via email or social media.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray Wildfire: How can Calgarians help?

The Canadian Red Cross is a trusted organization raising funds for Alberta wildfire evacuees.

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The Red Cross contacted the Edmonton Police Service on Thursday to express concern over reports some people are going door to door posing as Red Cross representatives and trying to solicit funds from people.

Sgt. Steve Sharpe said the organization wanted Edmontonians to be aware of it and do their homework before donating to anyone at the door.

“It is circulating. It’s something that we’re aware of. It represents fraud and the quicker we can advise the public about this, we feel that we might be able to prevent it from getting out of hand.”

Anyone who feels like they were approached by someone who is not from a legitimate charity is asked to contact the police and the charity the potential fraudster said they represented.

Shawn Feely with the Red Cross said representatives will never ask for cash donations. They only ask people to become monthly donors via credit card. The Red Cross will only contact people by phone if they have previously donated to the charity.

“We presently do not have any canvassers going door to door in western Canada,” Feely said.

Feely said the best way to ensure your money goes directly to the Red Cross is to donate online, at a physical location or by phone at 1-800-418-1111.

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Matt Baden from the Red Cross also suggested any group that plans to fundraise on their behalf, should register their event online so people can authenticate the validity of the fundraiser on the Red Cross website.

Baden also said that 100 per cent of the money raised by Red Cross in the name of the Fort McMurray wildfire will go directly to helping victims affected by it.

To report a scam, contact the Canadian Anti-fraud centre or call 1-888-495-8501.

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