Our opinion: Donors must be cautious

Wednesday May 8, 2013

The millions of dollars in donations that have been flooding in to help victims of last month’s Boston Marathon bombings testify to the generosity of the people of Massachusetts and the world over, as well as the ease in which contributions can be made courtesy of modern technology. This ease invites fraud, however, as well as generosity watered down by the profit motive, and donors should be cautious about where they are sending their money.

One Fund Boston is the most prominent site for donations and has raised $11 million so far, with another $17 million pledged. It is a professional operation that is now establishing parameters for how money is distributed to bombing victims and their families. People can donate directly to the One Fund or through retailers, but it is not always clear in the latter case how much of the money will reach the charity. Yankee Candle declined to tell The Boston Globe how much of the $27.99 retail price of its "Boston Strong" candle will go to One Fund Boston, and the paper also reported that while country music star Kenny Chesney will donate his share of the proceeds from downloads of his song "Share the Love" to a victims fund he established, his contractual arrangements with iTunes and other distributors prevent him from revealing how large that share is.

Social media have made it easy to establish "crowdfunding" campaigns, and while most may be ethical there is no oversight and no way to guard against scams. In response to Hurricane Katrina, according to the FBI, about 4,000 bogus websites emerged that stole money and credit card information. The Watertown boat owner whose craft was shot up by police in apprehending a bombing suspect was unaware of the online campaign raising money to buy him a new boat, and while several drives were started to raise funds to help the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old killed in the attack, The Richard Family Fund is the only authorized site.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is urging donors to do their homework and learn about how the money is distributed and how much of it goes to victims before writing a check to a charitable campaign. A charitable contribution is only as good as the process that gets all of it to its intended beneficiary.


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