Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Voluntouring scams

The crappy voluntourism post prompted more emails (you people need to learn how to leave comments, or otherwise I’ll humiliate you on the blog, are we clear?), and the two messages that immediately stood out inspired the rant for today.

I also have to apologize for the recent voluntourism overload. This is not intentional, and I promise we will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon. I hope. Unless people will keep sending me goofy emails and cry about how they got ripped off.

Yes, today’s topic – volunteering scams.

What? You thought volunteering was immune to scams and rip-offs? I said it before, and I’m going to say it again – volunteering is BIG business. Bigger than you can imagine. And as in any business, some people get cheated.

What my correspondents described is a rather mundane volunteering placement scam. How anyone with two brain cells to rub together could fall for it, is beyond me. People, people… Just because someone posts on internet forums looking for volunteers, appears to have a website with pictures of sad children and has a sappy story to match, doesn’t mean that someone is legit.

Here are some warning signs:

1.    They (whoever “they” might be) won’t tell you upfront how much your placement will cost. They insist that you email them for more information, and when you do, they will still be very evasive.

2.    They claim to be a registered NGO in whatever country they are based, but refuse to provide the registration number. You did ask for their charity’s registration number, didn’t you? No? Oh well…

3.    The only form of payment they will accept is a bank transfer. They won’t agree that you hand them hard cold cash upon arrival. (Which, by the way, in my experience, is the preferred MO of most legit grass-roots NGOs to conduct business. Cash is king. Much easier to embezzle, too.)

4.    They refuse to provide you with any information regarding your placement until you complete the bank transfer.

Normally, the sums of money they ask for are not outrageous, anywhere from 300 dollars to 300 euros. These people know it’s about the standard going rate for a “budget” placement – the type where your room and board are covered for 2 to 4 weeks.  Where do they tend to operate? Anywhere! India, Nigeria and Senegal seem to be the most recent hot spots.

How to avoid getting ripped off? Do you homework, ask the right questions, and if the answers are not forthcoming, move on. There are hundreds of legit charities out there itching for volunteers. But the best way to avoid a scam, especially for an inexperienced first time wanna-be volunteer, is to use a reputable BIG organization such as CADIP or Service Civil International.

Case closed.


India is incredible and all that, but for the love of humanity, before you hand over your money please check out carefully any organization you're not familiar with.

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