With every natural disaster come the scams.
After Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction in Southeast Texas, naturally people want to help. Americans are extremely generous when there’s a devastating event, and criminals know exactly how to take advantage of a crisis.
Just three months after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the Northeast in 2012, the Red Cross had received more than $254 million in donations and pledges. Even more money poured in later.
Now tens of thousands of people have already been displaced by floodwaters from Harvey. Their needs will be great. But the responsible thing to do when giving is to figure out how best to contribute. This means doing some homework to make sure your money goes where you expect and is put to the best use.
For those of you who want to help victims of Harvey, here are four tips on how to donate wisely from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group.
• Investigate before you donate. The FTC (ftc.gov) has put out a blog post with tips for donating safely along with links to charity watchdog groups. It’s called: Wise Giving in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey.
• Consider charities close to the storm. If you’re skeptical of large-scale charitable groups, give to local nonprofits. Charity Navigator suggested the following organizations: Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, Houston Humane Society or San Antonio Humane Society.
Make sure the charity has the ability to take action. “Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly,” says a warning from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
As you watch media reports and see local churches or community centers opening their doors to victims, reach out to the organizations to see what they may need. But please call first before sending any money or items, because you want to be sure they can handle what you want to send.
• Stay away from the middleman. It’s my personal charitable giving rule to cut out any middlemen. I’m not a fan of giving through a company getting paid to raise funds for a charity. Often much of your money goes to the professional fundraiser.
• Be careful of online fundraising efforts. Scammers will try to appear as if they represent legit charities. Really, just don’t respond to unsolicited telephone calls or click any links you get via email or that you see online. If you think a request may be real, independently look for contact information for the organization and contribute directly.
Just in the last few days, multiple GoFundMe.com pages were established for Hurricane Harvey victim Jeremiah Richard and his family, prompting Richard to put out this note on the page he created (https://www.gofundme.com/help-for-the-richard-family): “I was just told there are people making fake fund me pages on my behalf. PLEASE SHARE THE LINK TO THE OFFICIAL PAGE.”
Richard, his wife and their two sons had to be airlifted from their flooded apartment building. You can watch their dramatic helicopter rescue captured by the local ABC station KTRK at http://abc13.co/2wgZx2g. “We came home,” he said. “It wasn’t raining, and 45 minutes later we in a flood.”
On seeing comments about other accounts for the Richard family, one person wrote, “I will donate directly to them. But I will not support scammers.”
I reached out to Richard, and he confirmed in an email his concern about the other campaigns. “Yeah a lot of people have been trying to contact me making sure they have the right page.”
In advance of Harvey, GoFundMe created a Medium post about safety measures being taken to protect donors. Before you give please read the post: http://bit.ly/2x1VjOp.
“We have multiple technical tools to verify a beneficiary’s identity and the information about the campaign prior to the transfer of funds,” said Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe. “We are also monitoring all campaign organizers related to Harvey.”
In cases like the Richard family, where multiple people create a campaign, Whithorne said the site has the ability to combine the multiple fundraising efforts. “We’ll work with the campaign organizers and the beneficiaries to make sure the money is routed to the proper account.”
To view all Harvey related GoFundMe campaigns go to www.gofundme.com/hurricaneharvey.
My plea to you is please don’t become a victim. The more folks fall for disaster scams, the more emboldened the con artists become.
Be wise with your giving. Don’t let your heart get in the way of helping in the right way.
Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or firstname.lastname@example.org.