Consumers should be wary of fraudulent charities when donating to relief efforts
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is urging consumers to be on the lookout for charity scams when donating to relief efforts for Hurricane Matthew victims.
"Hurricane Matthew devastated families and communities from North Carolina to Haiti, and many of us want to help," Cooper said. "Unfortunately, scammers may try to take advantage of our generosity and keep those donations for themselves."
There are currently numerous relief efforts being undertaken to aid those affected by the hurricane both in the U.S. and abroad. Although the North Carolina Attorney General's Office has not received any complaints reporting fraudulent charities in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, previous natural disasters have shown that such scams are likely to arise. For this reason, A.G. Cooper urged consumers to be generous in their donations to storm victims while at the same time exercising caution regarding solicitations from fake charities.
Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on October 4 at Category 4 strength, causing severe damage and killing hundreds of people. The storm then traveled up the East Coast of the U.S. , making landfall in South Carolina as a weaker-but-still-dangerous Category 1 storm. Inches of rain fell in North Carolina, causing roads to be washed away, homes and businesses to be flooded, and additional lives to be lost.
"Please consider helping victims if you can, but make sure your donation goes where it will do the most good," Cooper said. "Research charities before you give, and report charity scams to my office."
There are numerous ways that consumers can make wise decisions about donating to disaster relief efforts while avoiding fraudulent charities. Here are several:
- Know the signs of a fake charity. Fraudulent charities frequently use names that are very similar to the names of actual legitimate charities, non-profits, and even law enforcement agencies. Before you donate, contact the established organization by a phone number or website that you know is legitimate.
- Decide whom to donate to. Do not respond to solicitations for donations, especially from telemarketers; these may keep up to 90 percent of the money they collect. Instead, decide which charities you wish to support and contact them directly to make a donation. If giving to relief efforts in North Carolina, consider donating to groups you already know do good, legitimate work in the community.
- Do your homework. There are several websites where you can look up a charity to which you are considering making a donation. Give.org will allow you to see whether a national charity meets the standards set by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. Charitywatch.org provides ratings of charities made by the American Institute of Philanthropy. Guidestar.org and Charitynavigator.org also provide information about organizations, such as tax forms.
- Donate to an established charity. New charities tend to pop up after a natural disaster strikes. Some might be legitimate, but others may be scams or simply too disorganized to be effective. It is generally best to donate to charities that have an established track record of putting donations to good and wise use.
- If the charity will not answer questions, do not donate to it. If a representative of a charity refuses to answer questions about how it will use your donation, it might be a scam. Check out the charity with the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office online or at (888) 830-4989.
- Delete any unsolicited email or text message requesting a donation. These messages may be part of a phishing scam even if they appear legitimate. They might include links to websites that seem real but are actually set up to trick consumers into making a donation.
- Got a pushy telemarketer? Hang up the phone. Most of the time, if a telemarketer refuses to answer your questions, offers to pick up your donation, or otherwise pressures you, he or she is up to no good. Many will even keep up to 90 percent of any donation you make! If you want your donation to be put to the best use, contact the charity and donate to it directly rather than to a hired fundraiser.
- Be wary of social media posts soliciting donations. The cause may sound like a worthy one, especially if it was posted by someone you know, but make sure to verify how your donation will be used before actually giving.
- Got a crowdfunding request? Consider it carefully. Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo enable people to raise money for causes and projects online. However, such sites are also vulnerable to scammers. If you are considering donating to a crowdfunding project, make sure you know who you're donating to, how the money will be used, and how much of your donation will go to the crowdfunding site rather than the project.
- Do not give cash. Cash gifts can be lost or stolen. It is best to pay by credit card for both security and tax record purposes. If you decide to pay by check, make the check payable to the charity itself, not the fundraiser.
- Protect personal information. Never, ever give out your credit card or bank account number to anyone you do not know. If someone calls you and asks for your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number, do not provide it; it may be a scam.
Consumers who wish to report a potential scam can file a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office either online or at (877) 566-7226.