Scammers are smart – we’ve talked about how they try to prey on people’s weaknesses – and where there’s a natural disaster in the headlines, a scam usually follows closely behind. Here are a few scams we know of, and some tips for making sure your donations go to those who are truly in need.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, FEMA alerted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of scam robocalls to homeowners and renters claiming their flood premiums are past due. These scammers say in order to have coverage for damage done by Harvey, they need to submit a payment immediately. Red flag #1? They’re preying on immediacy. To families who may have lost their homes in the storm, making sure they settle up to get their checks might seem like an urgent need. If you receive one of these calls – don’t panic and give in. Hang up and call your insurance company to talk with them directly. Visit the FTC’s website to learn more about flood insurance, how to file a claim, and how to report suspected fraud.
Scammers also love exploiting people’s generosity in times of need. It’s hard to believe anyone would do something so despicable, but being aware of the warning signs is the best way to avoid charity scams. With more hurricanes headed toward land right now, scam efforts are likely to increase dramatically over the next few weeks.
If you want to give, do your research to ensure your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised. Here are a few tips when you’re considering where to give:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. If you’ve given them money before and they have a proven track record of disaster relief, that’s the #1 way to make sure your money is spent wisely. When in doubt, the American Red Cross is a pretty popular place to donate for disaster relief.
- Beware of “new” charities that seemingly pop up overnight. While it may seem in your best interest to donate to a charity claiming to benefit a specific tragedy directly, check it out first with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
- Designate your dollars to the disaster. For instance, texting “HARVEY” to 90999 will allocate those funds directly for Hurricane Harvey relief, and not just general Red Cross funds.
- In fact, when texting, confirm the number with the source. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate. Make sure there are no typos – and that the number is correct – before hitting send.
- Never open links or attachments from emails you don’t recognize. We know you’re excited to help, but clicking on strange links from unknown sources could install malware on your computer and make it easier for someone to steal your identity.
- Don’t assume all charity messages on social media are legit. Just because Great Aunt Cathy retweeted the (totally made up) “@Helperz4Hurricanes” account doesn’t make it a real charity! Research the organization yourself.
Read more about charity scams on the FTC Scam Alert blog.