Hurricane Harvey has become the most devastating natural distaster in history. Estimates put the total cost of damage at $160 billion.
Unfortunately, natural disasters prompt charity fraud and scams to prey on the goodwill of those trying to help. If you are looking to make a donation to a charity there are a few key guidelines to consider:
- Research the organization. You can request the organization to send you their proof of nonprofit status or for their federal tax ID number. Charities are also required to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs to solicit contributions in NJ.
- Do not send cash or wire transfers. There is no way to trace or recover funds if they are sent in these ways. Donations should only be made through a secure online portal if using a credit card, or by sending a check made payable to the organization. These ways protect your safety and create a record for tax purposes.
- Appearances aren’t always what they seem. Even though an organization has a professional looking website or impressive materials, that does not mean it’s a legitimate charity.
- Double check that the name of the charity is correct. Scams often choose a name or website that is very similar to that of a well known, reputable organization to confuse people.
- Be cautious of crowdfunding. In the wake of disaster, websites like GoFundMe will surge with new pages purporting to collect donations for a cause. There is no way to detect the difference between honest pages and fraudulent ones.
- Beware of unsolicited emails asking for donations. Never send donations via email. These are often phishing attempts that will try to steal your financial or personal information. Emails sent with attachments claiming to contain pictures of the disaster area should not be opened, as they most likely contain viruses.
If you suspect that an organization may be involved in fraudulent activity or that you have been contacted by a scam, you should report it immediately. On the federal level you can report it to the IRS, the FTC, or the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s tip line (866-720-5721). On the state level, you can report it to the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Office of the Attorney General.
If you need assistance reporting charity frauds or scams, please contact my office for assistance.