Natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey – which recently devastated coastal Texas — tend to bring out scammers eager to prey on victims. Read More

In fact, generous people all over the country are now giving to hurricane relief efforts, but experts warn consumers: be wary of phony or poorly run charities.

Scam artists use a plethora of mediums –bogus websites, emails, social media accounts, flyers and fake crowdfunding campaigns — to capitalize on Americans’ generosity after major crises.

The Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), which was established to crack down on scams in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, recently issued a news release warning of post-Harvey charity scams.

According to the NCDF, the public should perform due diligence prior to giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations adhering to the following guidelines:

· Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including by clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.
· Be cautious of individuals representing themselves as victims or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
· Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
· Rather than following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by using Internet-based resources.
· Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because those files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
· To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
· Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use coercive tactics.
· Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
· Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
· Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.

The Federal Trade Commission — the nation’s consumer protection agency – also warns that scams frequently follow disasters. According to the FTC, legitimate charities frequently face competition from swindlers who either collect for a nonexistent charity — or are dishonest about how their “charity” will use the money. Read More

Fraud isn’t the only concern. A poorly run charity may not use your donation for its intended purpose. Consumers should concentrate on giving to established, reputable organizations such as the American Red Cross. Read More

Want to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey? Here’s a list of organizations working to do important work to save lives and provide comfort to victims. See the List

And to learn more about the charity you opt to support, visit Charity Navigator

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