Every natural disaster is followed by a humanitarian effort to aid the victims. And by a horde of scammers trying to make a buck off other people’s misery.
Hurricane Dorian is no exception.
Even as the hurricane was pummeling the Bahamas early last week, Venice-based Agape Flights, a Christian ministry that serves the Caribbean, was making plans to fly in with emergency supplies donated by dozens of local residents and businesses.
By the end of the week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commission Nikki Fried were issuing warnings about charities purporting to raise money for storm victims.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office did as well.
“When residents are considering donating to charity following a natural disaster, we recommend they thoroughly research the organization to avoid falling victim to a scam,” Media Relations Specialist Megan Krahe said via email. “Whether donating online, over the phone or by direct mail, citizens should find out exactly who will receive their donation and how it will be used.”
Fried said in a news release that her office was already looking into more than 140 new online charities that are soliciting money for hurricane relief. The initial effort is to contact the entity regarding registering as a charity with her office, according to the release.
“We are the state agency responsible for regulating charities, we are watching and we will take action,” Fried stated in the release. “Bad actors taking advantage of generosity will not be tolerated, especially after disasters like Hurricanes Dorian.”
Moody seconded the warning and in particular urged caution in dealing with solicitations from crowd-sourcing websites such as GoFundMe.
Both offices offered advice about how to determine if a charity is legitimate and how to give safely. Here’s what they recommend.
Check it out
Lists of official Bahamas relief charities have already been compiled. Visit FreshFromFlorida.com/Hurricane, which is Fried’s website, or CIDI.org, run by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for International Disaster Information.
Krahe added this resource: Consumer.FTC.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity.
Alternatively, try one of these tools:
GiveWell — GiveWell.org
Charity Navigator — CharityNavigator.org
CharityWatch — CharityWatch.org
Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance — Give.org
It’s especially important to research a charity if you’ve been solicited for a donation. Make sure you find an exact match for the name. Scammers will tweak a familar name, counting on potential donors not paying close attention.
If you’re considering a donation through a crowd-funding website, check it out too.
The principles that apply to dealing with anyone online apply to giving to a charity.
• Never give credit card numbers, gift card account numbers or bank account information to a caller on the phone or in response to an unsolicited email.
• Avoid solicitors that use high-pressure tactics.
• Feel free to ask for written information about the charity, so you’ll have time to think about it and be in a better position to make a decision.
Not all charities are created equal. The fact an entity calls itself a charity doesn’t mean that a significant portion of your donation will reach your intended beneficiaries or that it’s tax deductible.
Charity Navigator, for example, has a list of the top 10 charities that overpay professional fundraisers. No charity on the list puts even 40% of the money it raises into services and for several it’s less than 10%.
A legitimate charity will tell you how your donation will be spent and how much of it will go to overhead, including administrative and fundraising costs.
It can also provide you its IRS tax-exempt number to you’ll know that your donation is tax deductible. You can verify that with the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search tool at IRS.gov.
If you have suspicions about a charity, you can report it to the Attorney General at MyFloridaLegal.com or 866-966-7226.