Warning signs of disaster scams

When natural disasters strike, many people immediately ask what they can do to help. Some may volunteer at disaster sites, while others may offer financial donations from afar.

While donors’ efforts are always sincere, some of the people soliciting those donations may be anything but. The Internet and smartphones have made it easier for criminals to defraud well-intentioned men and women who simply want to help at a time when that help is sorely needed. Fraudulent websites, bulk email solicitations and texting scams that encourage donations are each means by which criminals take advantage of conscientious donors.

As eager as prospective donors may be to lend a financial hand when disaster strikes, it’s important to take the time to confirm that an organization is legitimate and not an operation organized by fraudsters looking to make a fast buck. The following are a handful of red flags that may indicate an organization seeking financial donations in the wake of a disaster is not what it says it is.

• Demands: Legitimate organizations will never make demands of prospective donors, so men and women should be wary of organizations that solicit on-the-spot donations. Reputable organizations, such as the Red Cross, have enough resources to respond to natural disasters without demanding immediate action from donors.

• Hesitancy to share information: Reputable organizations are transparent with regard to sharing information about their programs, relief efforts and allocation of donations. If solicited by an organization that seems hesitant to share information about itself, donors should politely hang up the phone or walk away.

• Request for personal information: Some scammers will attempt to gather personal information, including social security numbers and credit card numbers, over the phone. Never share your social security number with anyone, and keep in mind that the majority of charities can now accept donations online, removing the need to share credit card information over the phone. Stop speaking with solicitors who continue to ask for personal information.

• Checks: Some scammers will request that donors make donation checks out to fundraisers and not an actual organization. When making a donation to charity, make the check payable to an organization and not an event. Confirm the organization is legitimate by visiting its website.

• Name: Many fraudsters go to great lengths to defraud well-intentioned men and women. Some even establish fake organizations and websites with names that sound very similar to legitimate charities. Such websites may be linked through fraudulent email solicitations, and they are often designed to mimic the websites of legitimate organizations. Never donate via links in emails. Instead, type the name of a charity into a search engine, confirming it’s the actual charity you wish to work with and not a fraudulent entity with a very similar name.

Donating in the wake of a natural disaster is a thoughtful gesture. But donors must be on the lookout for scammers looking to take advantage of their generosity.

Author: Duane Childers

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