Hurricane Victim Scams: What to Look Out For
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Max, Maria…this season has hit both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts with a seemingly endless stream of devastating hurricanes. Like many others, you are probably concerned with doing what you can to help the victims of the devastation, and this often means donating to online charities that are advertising their help for different hurricane relief funds. While most of the time online giving is a convenient and efficient way to offer aid, it can also expose you to certain types of online fraud and scams.
It is extremely common for online scammers to use disasters like hurricanes as a way to scam users into giving them money. Scammers pose as a non-profit organization deploying hurricane relief aid and collect online “donations” that end up going into the scammer’s pocket. Not only do these scams help fraudsters make money and create more victims, but they also take away useful resources that should be going to help with the hurricane crisis.
It is important to recognize the signs of a fraudulent hurricane relief website so you can steer clear and make sure your money is going to those who really need it. This blog outlines 5 warning signs that a site may be fraudulent and tips on how to check for sure.
- Overnight Sites: Usually aid websites that ask for donations can be traced back to a parent page that has existed for years and has signs of legitimacy like a blog, certifications, or simply an up to date site that looks like it was made with care. If a site you click on does not have a homepage and is not linked to an organization that looks legitimate; this is your first red flag.
- Collecting Money in a Strange Way: Another definative warning sign is if the charity or non-profit asks you to send money in a strange way. For example, through a direct wire transfer, sending cash or donating money via a transfer site like Paypal. Most non-profits will accept money through a reliable payment capture system that will require you to fill out your personal information, credit card number and will send you a confirmation upon receipt of the transaction. Texting donations is growing in popularity and it can be a good way to quickly donate. However, it also comes with added risks. Make sure to check out the organization before blindly hitting send.
- Make Sure Your Charity Exists: In the online world, it is easy to build an entire facade for a company that does not even exist. If you have a doubt about a charity, take a second and Google it and see if a phone number and physical address show up. If not, it might be better to try a different charity that you already know and trust. Even if you do manage to get someone on the phone to confirm the charity, still be aware of scammers that are developed enough to set up phone answering services.
- Use Charity Evaluation Sites: If you really want to confirm a charity’s legitimacy, there are charity evaluation sites like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, that can help you determine whether or not the charity is legitimate. While this is a great option for checking out the legitimacy of certain charities, keep in mind that local or new organizations might not exist in these databases; therefore, you do not necessarily want to write a charity off if they do not appear here. For a small or local organization, trust your judgment and make sure you talk with someone directly before sending a donation.
- Trust Your Gut: Ultimately, after using the above tools, you will need to go with your gut. Scammers and fraudsters are getting savvier on how to confuse their victims, whether it is by posing as legitimate organizations, setting up fake call centers or making their sites look more realistic. No matter what new tips are revealed to help you discern a scammer, sometimes the best litmus test is your own gut feeling.
Don’t let a scammer take away your generous gift from victims who really need them. Never hand over money until you are absolutely sure who you are giving it to and do not be afraid to wait a day or two until you can make sure the charity checks out. If you suspect a hurricane relief fund to be fraudulent, you can report it to the Attorney General Office of your state or the Better Business Bureau here.