In the wake of the devastation caused by disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, the desire to help can unfortunately be exploited by criminals. The Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and numerous other agencies have noticed an uptick in this type of fraud. Should you choose to donate, please follow these tips to best ensure your contributions are going where they are needed:
- Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
- Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB), Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar. At a minimum, confirm the group's existence and nonprofit status.
- Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
- Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.
- After conducting your research, contact the charitable organization via the information provided on their website or in public information. Scammers are known to use lookalike URLs in email traffic and to use spoofed phone numbers when calling directly.
- Don't assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
- Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
- When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
- Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services. Most legitimate charities' websites end in .org rather than .com.
If you think you have been the target of a fraudulent charity solicitation, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
, and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.