By Timothy Hardiman
Unfortunately, tragedies like Hurricane Sandy bring out the worst as well as the best in people. A quick Internet search on “Katrina relief scams” returns over 2 million hits. People want to help those in need, but they want their donations to go to the victims – not predators taking advantage of a bad situation.
Scams after disasters are such a widespread problem that the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) was established in 2005. NCDF and the FBI have put out an alert on how to make sure your donations are going to a legitimate charity and a hotline to report any possible fraudulent charities that may approach you.
One way to be sure your donation is reaching those in need is to work with a local charity you already know such as your church, a civic group or a veterans’ organization. In addition to money, these organizations may accept items like canned food and used clothing. These are things that victims need but would not be of interest to scammers.
If you decide to go with a larger, national organization take care that your donation goes where you want it to go. Be sure to contribute to a well-known, established organization such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army. These organizations are not only legitimate, they have established procedures for getting aid where it is needed. Organizations set up for a single event – even if well intentioned – may not distribute aid as efficiently.
If contributing through a website, take the time to carefully check the page and the address to make sure your donation is going where you intend it to. Some fraudulent organizations will set up a website that closely resembles a legitimate, well-known organization. Most legitimate organizations have a website that ends in “.org” rather than “.com”.
The FBI warns that unsolicited emails purporting to concern disaster relief could instead contain viruses that can damage your computer or steal personal or financial information. Do not open or click on any links from unsolicited emails. Instead, manually type in the website you are trying to reach in order to make a donation.
Do not accept telephone solicitations. Ask the caller to send you information in the mail so that you can consider their organization for a donation. Legitimate organizations will not object to this and will have mailings already prepared to send out. Do not allow the fundraiser on the other end to pressure you into a donation. These callers are very persistent and persuasive. Politely ask that they contact you by mail and then hang up.
When you do make a contribution, do not provide any financial or personal information, pay by credit card or check – avoid cash.
If you suspect that you have been contacted by a fraudulent organization please contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at: 866-720-5721.
We all want to help the victims of disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Let’s make sure our contributions get to the victims and not to criminals exploiting a tragic situation.