Watch Out for Charity Scams During Natural Disasters
When natural disasters strike, it’s natural to feel concern for those caught in the midst of the disaster. Some people feel the need to give of their money, while others will even travel to the devastated area to help clean and rebuild.
What you may not realize is that there are others in the world who see natural disasters as an opportunity take advantage of our heartfelt concerns by setting up charity scams.
These scam artists will go after both kind-hearted people looking to donate and those who were affected by the disaster.
When organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are calling attention to these types of scams that pop up after natural disasters, you can rest assured that there is good reason to pay attention.
While we could write an entire opinion piece denouncing these charlatans, we’ll instead provide you with helpful information to avoid being a victim of charity scams—and general tips to keep yourself safe.
1. Verify the Charity
If you hear about a charity you want to donate to, but are uncertain if it is legitimate, you have a number of options to verify it. There are websites such as BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and GuideStar. In addition, some states require charities to be registered. So, checking a state-level registry is also a smart move. (contact National Association of State Charity Officials).
If you get the green light on those sites, feel free to donate without fear.
Tip: Make it a rule of thumb never to give to a charity you’ve never heard of before until you verify it. Some fake websites even exist that seem identical to a well-known organization, but they are in fact fraudulent.
Just so you know, most legitimate nonprofit websites typically end in “.org,” not “.com.”
2. Avoid Giving to Door-to-Door Collectors
Unless there is a girl with a wagon of cookies and a Girl Scout uniform at your doorstep, it’s smart these days is to avoid giving directly to someone who comes to your front door looking for donations. Yes, they may be a legitimate representative, but there aren’t many foolproof ways to know in the moment. Because of the number of con artists out there, it’s better to be safe than sorry and tell them, “I’m sorry, but no.”
Tip: In our online dominated world, you have more options than donating right then and there. If you want to help but want to do it securely, you can always find the website later and donate there. If you’ve never heard of the organization, use one of the sites mentioned above to verify their legitimacy before donating. Whatever you do, never give out your personal information (even your name) to someone soliciting door to door.
For those you in disaster areas, be wary of door-to-door construction help.
There are some good-hearted souls who flock to a disaster area out of goodwill, but many “storm chasers” are showing up simply to add salt to the wounds of those who have already suffered loss.
Those con artists will show up offering immediate help (even some with “special offers”) and will either 1) take payment and never perform the job, or 2) use shoddy materials to make it look like a job was performed. By the time anyone realizes that authentic construction work wasn’t done, the money and “workers” are long gone.
Tip: Do your best not let the impact of your loss force you into making a hasty decision that would bring about even greater loss. When several construction estimates and ask for the contractor license number and proof of insurance. Anyone who hesitates to supply this information is not worth working with.
3. Don’t Donate When Solicited by Unknown Organizations
Typically, the only kind of solicitation you should get through email or by a phone call is from an organization you have already donated to. Those charities are aware of a person’s past donation history, so reaching out for another donation is common.
However don’t think that because one charity you supports calls, that it then makes sense for more charities to do so as well. This is where many fraudulent charities are hoping to strike…to maybe catch a “giving” person off-guard.
If you receive an email, phone call, or mailer from an unknown organization, remember our tips from before.
Verify, verify, verify!
4. Donating by Text.
You might have heard of opportunities to give to a cause or organization via text message. Charitable organizations, phone companies, and donations processors work together these days to allow people to give simply by texting the amount they want to donate to the mobile giving number.
The question is, is giving by text safer than giving online?
The answer is, no it is NOT automatically safer or risk free.
But it can be safe and legitimate.
Just like other methods of giving, the same rules and advice applies.
Before you donate to a cause via text, make sure it is a legitimate organization–or simple make it a point to donate to charities that you are certain about.
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