By Tracey Dowdy
When natural disasters strike, ordinary people often step up and become heroes, risking their personal property and safety, and sometimes sacrificing themselves for others. Unfortunately, not only is it a time when we see the best of people, we sometimes see the worst.
With Hurricane Dorian battering the Carolinas after leaving a trail of devastation stretching to the Bahamas, authorities are warning about scams that are likely to appear in the wake of the storm. These scams come in a variety of guises, from robocalls and fake charities to price-gouging at the pump, grocery, and hotels along evacuation routes.
The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance warns, “After a terrible and very public tragedy such as a mass shooting, wildfire or other natural disaster, or an accident, people want to help in any way possible, and that often means contributing to fundraisers to help the survivors and the families of the victims. Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.”
To avoid becoming the victim of one of these scams, following these guidelines:
- Go to org or Charity Navigator to check the charity’s rating and verify if it meets BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability. It only takes a few minutes and can ensure you’re donating to an ethical organization who will use your gift to help victims.
- Check the phone number. One quick and easy way to check the validity of an organization is to check the phone number you’ve been directed to against the phone number on the charity’s website. This is especially important in the social media posts that pop up post-disaster and tell you to text a certain number for direct donation.
- Beware look-alikes. In the wake of tragedy or disasters, it’s not uncommon for scammers to set up fake donation pages with names intentionally similar to trusted sites. For example, they’ll take the web address for the Red Cross and change redcross.org to redcross.com or red.cross.org. If you’re not careful, you may not notice the difference and end up donating to a scam. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, in text messages, or an email.
- Beware crowdfunding. Not all crowdfunding sites vet the individuals who set up a donation page for victims. Back in 2017, when Robert Godwin Sr. in a video posted to Facebook, within hours there were 35 fake GoFundMe pages set up, all without the Godwin family’s consent. Any page set up in the name of the victim or their family must have their permission. To avoid these fake pages, verify pages using these tools.
- Check for registration. Most US states require charities to be registered with a government agency, usually under the State Attorney General’s Office, and Canadian charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. If the charity you’re considering isn’t registered, you may want to choose another. The Federal Trade Commission warns they cannot guarantee you’ll get your money back from a scammer.
- Where’s the money going? If the appeal or page isn’t clear about where the money or goods donated will be going, that’s a big ol’ red flag. There should be a clear plan for the transportation and distribution of goods and a specific recipient – individual or organization – receiving any financial contributions.
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, or any other disaster, check out https://www.usa.gov/, the official website of the federal government for a list of resources, services, and information including consumer issues and disaster relief.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.