Watch Out for Hurricane Michael Charity Scams

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Don’t get caught up in a charity scam | Source: Thinkstock

When you see the devastation caused by a natural disaster, your first reaction is likely to look for ways to help the people who have been affected. However, there are scammers out there waiting to take advantage of your kindness. The Federal Trade Commission recently sent out a warning to let consumers know about scams related to Hurricane Michael. Here are a few tips from the FTC on what to look out for and how to keep your money safe from charity scammers.

Watch out for suspicious websites

Right after a hurricane hits, it’s not uncommon to see a bunch of websites spring up, supposedly dedicated to hurricane relief. Although some of the sites might be legitimate, many of them are not. Only donate money to reputable organizations. If you’re not familiar with the organization and it’s difficult to find more information about the operation, it’s best to refrain from donating to that charity.

Colleen Tressler, the FTC’s consumer education specialist, says several new websites have popped up in response to Hurricane Florence. She notes how they accept donations on behalf of victims without revealing who is running the sites or how the funds will be used. Says Tressler, “Some sites claim—without any clear way to verify it—that a certain percentage of donations go to certain groups, like first responders. Other sites invoke the names of well-recognized groups like the Red Cross but, again, with no easy way to confirm a relationship.”

Research the charity

Even if you think you know the charity, be careful. Some scam charities will go by a name that is similar to a legitimate charity, so they can steal your money. Your best bet is to do a thorough search if you have any doubts about a particular organization. Tressler recommends researching the charity with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

Find out if the charity should be registered

Some charities and fundraisers are required to be registered in your state. You can find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. If the organization should be registered, but they failed to do this, you might want to move on to a different charity.

Double-check the phone number when texting a donation

If you text a lot, chances are you’ve sent a message (or picture) to the wrong number. It’s easy to text the wrong number, so use care when texting a donation. Double-check the number before hitting the “send” button. The FTC advises consumers to confirm the number with the source before donating via text message. This way, you can make sure your donation gets to the right organization.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

Do you think you donated to a scam charity? Fortunately, there is something you can do about it. If you think you’ve given your hard-earned cash to a fraud, you can report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

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