When a hurricane strikes, people who were injured or whose property sustained damage can be at both their most vulnerable and their most giving. Luckily, there were few reports in Monroe County of people falling victim to hurricane-related charitable fraud following the Category 4 Hurricane Irma of September 2017. But there are those out there who will use a catastrophe to try to separate people from their money.
Following a hurricane, people might go door to door claiming to represent a relief organization or other charitable group and solicit money. Or you might get phone calls, texts, emails or messages on social media asking for money in the name of hurricane relief. Don’t be so quick to get your wallet out.
Tips for Donating
If you do want to donate, follow tips to ensure your money is going to a reputable group:
- After a disaster, many solicitations show up on crowdfunding websites. Such sites are used for raising large amounts of money in smaller increments by numerous people.
- Consumer Reports says “keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who you personally know that have posted requests for assistance.”
- Consumer Reports says some people plan far ahead to rip you off: “Every spring, when the National Weather Service announces potential names for the upcoming hurricane season, scammers race to create deceptive websites and accounts soliciting donations using variations of those storm names.”
- If you do decide to donate, make sure your payment goes to the charity rather than a person, for example, if writing a check, make it out to the charity, not an individual. Always get a receipt.
- If you feel pressured to make a donation, back away. Legitimate charitable organizations don’t pressure people into thinking they have to donate.
- If you get an email or text seeking donations from a source you don’t know, it’s best to ignore it.
- If you get a phone call soliciting a donation, don’t just assume the caller is legitimate no matter how professional he or she sounds. Ask specific questions: The caller’s full name, the physical address of the charity, exactly where your money would be going. Ask if a donation is tax-deductible and for proof of that. Ask for a telephone number to call back. Any legitimate solicitor should know all of that without hesitation.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says “be wary of charities with names that are similar to or familiar to nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.”
- Never give or send cash. Don’t put money in jars on counters. You don’t know if all of those coins and bills are simply going into someone’s pocket even if the jar has what appears to be a legitimate logo or words on it.
- Never give out your personal information such as your Social Security number. Only use your credit card if you are sure the charity is legitimate. If a scammer gets that information, he or she can steal your identity and, with it, your money.
- There are numerous ways online to check if a charity is legitimate and how much of its money goes toward programs as opposed to expenses. Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and GuideStar are watchdog websites for charities.
Check-A-Charity is a resource that provides the financial information reported to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services from charitable organizations. The information in Check-A-Charity is provided as a public service. The charities listed are currently registered with the department; Inactive or expired registrations will not display.
Search for Tax Exempt Organizations
To find out if an organization is federally tax-exempt, you can check on the IRS website.