Hurricane

How to avoid getting scammed when making donations after Hurricane Dorian

Destruction from Hurricane Dorian in an area called “The Mudd” at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas on Thursday, September 5, 2019
Destruction from Hurricane Dorian in an area called “The Mudd” at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas on Thursday, September 5, 2019 adiaz@miamiherald.com

As Hurricane Dorian’s obliteration of parts of the Bahamas and destruction in the Carolinas becomes clear, many want to give. But, unfortunately, some people out there want to take.

Scammers follow disasters like sidewalk worms follow a heavy rain.

GoFundMe, which has a Hurricane Dorian page, claims its GoFundMe Guarantee makes sure your donations will go to the intended recipients and that it employs “fraud prevention technology.”

But, if you don’t want to rely exclusively on third-party security, here’s some useful parts of a personal security system.

Look at the name. A “charity” with a name and logo very close to that of a widely known charity should give you pause. They’re likely trying to fool you in the manner of those scam phone callers who say they’re from the “IRS,” but try to avoid saying “Internal Revenue Service.”

Check the name. If it’s an effort at raising goods and services created recently, check out the people or businesses behind it. If it’s a charity, look for the website. If there isn’t one, it’s a problem. If there is one, remember, they’re asking you for your hard-earned money. If they were a person asking you for money for personal use, how many questions would you have about what’s going to happen with that money? The website should have many of those answers. As the Federal Trade Commission says, “If you can’t find detailed information about a charity’s mission and programs, be suspicious.”

Run the charity or person’s name through a search engine. What kind of complaints do you find?

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Run the charity’s name through your state’s registry for businesses or charitable organizations. In Florida, the Department of Agriculture oversees charitable organizations. You can go to the Check-A-Charity part of the site to see what financial information a charity has reported. You can also check out the charity through CharityNavigator.org, CharityWatch.org, GuideStar.org, as well as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

Check ALL the names associated with a charity. Run the organizers’ names through any county or federal court records available to you. In Florida, you can check the Department of Corrections website to see if someone has done time or is on state-supervised probation. Yes, people can turn their lives around. But someone with a track record of fraud probably shouldn’t be relied on to provide a safe transfer of goods or money.

Don’t give over the phone. Phone scams proliferate these days. Scammers can mask their phone numbers. And professional telephone fund raisers, at best are getting paid by a legitimate charity, thus taking up some of the funds that could be going to the charity’s stated beneficiaries. At worst, they’re scammers. Tell them if they really want your money, they can mail you an envelope for sending a donation.

Give via credit card. Like regular purchases, this gives you the greatest fraud protection. Or, send a check.

If you’ve been scammed, contact the FTC or your state attorney general’s office.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
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