In politics, there is a saying that you should never waste a good crisis. This unscrupulous philosophy also applies to scammers.
Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Friday morning, pummeling the Wilmington area and kept coming … slowly. The Category 1 hurricane, thank goodness downgraded from a Cat 4 just a day earlier, did significant damage in a short period of time and continued through Sunday.
Anyone following news of the storm on television or social media has been inundated with images of the heart-breaking destruction. Many people will want to do something to help those affected.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of other less savory individuals who will look to take advantage of that heartfelt generosity.
The Federal Trade Commission warns that scammers count on the eagerness of people wanting to help so that they won’t do their homework on a charity before giving.
Doing a little bit of research online before donating to a cause can go a long way to ensure the money you give makes it to reputable organizations that are helping people in need.
The FTC recommends doing a web search for the organization’s name and the words “review,” “scam” and/or “complaint” before making a donation. Sites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar are also useful to evaluate charities for legitimacy.
If you’re still unsure, it may be better to reach out to well-established organizations like the American Red Cross or Catholic Charities USA.
If you receive a phone call or email asking you to donate immediately, be wary.
Another red flag is if the individual or organization is asking for donations through cash, gift cards or wire transfer. Using a check or a credit card is better, because it’s easier to keep track of those payments.
Legitimate charities should also be willing to give receipts including their name, street address, phone number and web address.
Finally, in the age of crowdsourcing websites, it’s good to double check that a campaign is legitimate. GoFundMe notes that from reading information about a campaign, you should be able to tell how the campaign organizers is related to the intended recipient of donations; the purpose of the campaign and how funds will be used; whether direct friends and family are making donations and leaving supportive comments; and whether the intended recipient is in control of the withdrawals and, if not, is there a clear path for the funds to reach them. If not, message the organizer for more information before donating. If you’re still unsure, or think the account might be impersonating someone, report it to the website immediately.
Those who suspect that they have been the victim of a scam should collect as much information as they can on the organization they donated to, then report the scams at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
The last thing we want to do is discourage people from donating and helping. Just take a few minutes to do the research before sending a check or clicking submit to ensure your generosity is reaching the right people.