If you have a heart and have been following the news out of Florida and Houston over the last few weeks, you probably have one thought in mind: “How in the world can I help the people affected by Harvey and Irma?” And right on cue, as Texas and Florida work through their massive post-storm cleanups, charities big and small have been popping up to help fund relief efforts.
Too bad there are a whole lot of heartless people who see events such as Harvey and Irma as a chance to make a buck. In Harvey’s wake, the Texas AG’s office has received more than 3,200 complaints of Harvey-related scams in the last 3 weeks. And even before Irma made actual landfall, NPR reported that a GoFundMe disaster relief campaign supposedly set up by singer Jason Derulo had been exposed as a hoax. For both hurricanes, there have been reports of price-gouging for hurricane essentials (with some Florida gas stations charging $20 per gallon!) robocalls alerting people living in the path of each disaster that their insurance premiums need to be renewed, and many, many fake charities.
Disaster Scams are Nothing New
Events that attract lots of news coverage like hurricanes, earthquakes and terror attacks make perfect fodder for online and offline scammers looking to tug at emotions. They set up charity websites that claim to help victims, knowing that most people want help those suffering in whatever way they can. Even holidays and political events like elections can be used to lure in the money of kind people, but nothing pulls at heartstrings like a massive natural disaster, especially when it’s in your own country.
How to Spot Fake Charities
With experts predicting that Harvey’s cleanup will cost over $180 billion and current estimates for Irma putting cleanup costs at $150 billion or more, monetary assistance from outsiders is crucial. But what’s even more crucial is to ensure that your charity dollars make it to the places they are needed the most. Here are some tips to ensure your money makes its way to real charities:
- Ignore any email messages asking for assistance for either hurricane. Never click any links in these emails either; they may be filled with malware.
- Avoid organizations requesting donations in cash or via wire transfer. Always make donations on credit cards and make sure you can get charity receipts.
- Ignore solicitations over the phone or in-person. Any time “reps” get too pushy, you can be sure they aren’t legit.
- Examine all charity websites URLs very closely. Sure, it may seem like you’re on the Red Cross website but it may just be a very well-crafted fake. Look for misspellings and only donate on websites that state exactly what will be done with the funds collected.
- When you find a charity you want to donate to, type its name into Google with the word “scam” and see if any results indicate if it’s trustworthy or not.
- Never donate over social media.
- When in doubt, check out your selected charity at give.org or charitynavigator.org.
Scams are always despicable, but ones that take advantage of emotionally wrought situations like these are beyond the pale — in our digital world, it’s easier than ever to be misled. Follow the tips above and be sure to stay away from people looking to take advantage of you and your kindness.