Consumer Alert: Give smart. Don’t be scammed by Hurricane Ian fake charities

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – This consumer alert looks at smart giving.  As we all see the images of the destruction in southwest Florida, we all want to help.  Unfortunately, thieves want to help themselves to your hard-earned cash. After a tragedy, I’m usually the most busy. I get so many calls and emails from folks who believe they may have been scammed.  And there are few things worse than knowing your good money went to a bad actor.

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Here’s why we need to help. Parts of Florida have been decimated from toppled trees to pulverized roads and ruined homes.  The worst hit areas are Charlotte and Lee counties, where city officials are reporting there is little left.  Even storm-hardened native Floridians say this hurricane seemed different because of not only the winds, but also the sheer volume of water that fell from the sky.  And the governor now says recovery will take years.

So after a storm like this, you will likely get solicitations by phone, email, even text message. Here are the five red flags you need to watch out for:

  • The solicitor is aggressive.  If he or she is too persistent, you need take your money elsewhere.
  • They’re hesitant when asked for a call back number.  That’s a sure sign of fraud.
  • They promise your donation will enter you in a sweepstakes or raffle.  While legitimate non-profits hold raffles, you need to be wary if the offer comes from a charity you’re not familiar with.
  • They ask for donations through wire transfer or gift cards.  If you do that, you usually can’t get your money back.
  • They ask for your banking information. 

So before you give, here’s advice from the Better Business Bureau.  It says you should ask the following questions: 

  • Is the mission clear?  For example are your dollars going toward food, medical care or temporary shelter?
  • Does the charity already have a presence in the area?  Organizations already present are best equipped to meet the needs of residents.
  • Is the charity experienced in disaster relief?
  • If you’re thinking about crowdfunding, do you know the site’s procedures?  Some sites vet postings, others don’t.  If in doubt, give to an established charity.

There’s no harm in telling a solicitor you need to do some research before you give.  Two great resources I often use are Charity Navigator and Guidestar.