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Avoiding charity scams after natural disasters

Male and female teenage food bank volunteers sort canned food items in cardboard boxes.

As hurricanes threaten the east coast, our generous members’ thoughts turn to finding ways to help. During and after disasters, scammers seek to take advantage of this generosity. Protect yourself and help your dollars make a difference where they are needed most by watching out for these red flags and doing some homework.

Look for these red flags that may indicate a charity scam

Scammer red flags to watch out for

  • Requests for only gift cards, wire transfer or cash.
  • Unexpected phone calls asking for your contribution. Scammers can change caller ID to make it look like it’s a real charity or local call.
  • Letters or emails thanking you for past donations to organizations you don’t recognize.
  • Donation solicitors who pressure or rush you to donate quickly.

Make your donations using credit card or check. Scammers ask people to contribute cash, gift cards or by wiring money. If you’re asked to do this, don’t. A legitimate charity won’t ask for untraceable contributions – they want to track your donations as much as you do. Keep records of all your donations, especially those made by credit card, to ensure you’re not getting a recurring charge when you intended only a single donation.

Scammers sometimes trick people into making donations by sending them a phony thank you for past contributions – this is where your record-keeping comes in handy. If you receive one of these, check your records, then check the organization out. Scammers will often use names very similar to legitimate charities.

Decide now to do your homework

Knowledge is your best defense against charity fraud. Before you give to anyone, check out the organization online through GuideStar, CharityWatch or Charity Navigator. These websites offer reports and rating about how charitable organizations spend donations, how they conduct business and how to contact the charities. Determine if your donation will be tax deductible, by visiting the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search web page and search for the organization.

Commit now to check out any charitable organization before contributing. This way, if you find yourself being pressured to donate, you can honestly answer “it’s my policy to never contribute without researching the organization first,” then hang up or walk away.

Your donations are needed to help disaster and hurricane victims. By following these simple tips, you can make sure your dollars truly get where you intended them to go.

More resources

Federal Trade Commission: Donating Through an Online Giving Portal https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/donating-through-online-giving-portal

Federal Trade Commission: Charity Scams https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0011-charity-scams

Avoid Charity Scams this Holiday Season https://www.soundcu.com/smart-money/avoid-charity-scams-holiday-season/

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