Hurricane Harvey: Watch out for charity scams

All Things Legal

By Jane M. Winand, Chief, Legal Assistance Division

In the wake of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey resulting in the extensive flooding in Texas and Louisiana, there is a natural outpouring of gifts to charities to help the disaster victims who have lost so much.

These generous donations are crucial to help the victims get back on track with their lives. Unfortunately, charity scams also pop up after a disaster as unscrupulous individuals seek to profit from the misfortune of others.

It is imperative that, before you make a donation, you make sure your contribution is going to a reputable charitable organization, which will use the money for the disaster victims.

There are many legitimate charitable organizations. However, there are also scammers who will collect for a charity that doesn’t exist, or who will use the contributions for a cause different from the one for which you gave the donation.

These scammers may solicit contributions by phone, email, in person or on social networking sites.

Before you contribute, look to guidance provided by the Federal Trade Commission on how best to evaluate a charity at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0011-charity-scams.

This website also includes information on charities that specifically benefit service members, veterans and their families.

If you receive an appeal to contribute to support victims of a disaster, do the following:

  • Donate only to charities you know and trust from previous dealings. Be careful when considering a charity that seems to have suddenly been created after a current disaster.
  • Should you receive a phone call asking for a donation, inquire as to whether the caller is a paid fundraiser, who the caller works for, and what percentage of the contribution will go to the charity and what percentage will go to the fundraiser.

Be wary of vague answers and consider donating to a different charity if a high percentage of each contribution will be paid to the fundraiser.

  • Never provide financial or personal information such as your bank account number or credit card information unless you are positive that the charity is legitimate.
  • Do not send cash to the charity. You will not be able to determine whether the money actually was received by the charity and you won’t have a receipt for income tax purposes.
  • Before giving, research the charity using GuideStar; the Better Business Bureau; Charity Watch; or Charity Navigator.
  • You also may determine if the charity must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.

If you have a question about a charity or believe you have been scammed, contact the Federal Trade Commission.

You also may call the Fort Meade Legal Assistance Office at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536. to schedule an appointment with an attorney.

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