Now that hurricanes Harvey and Irma have done their worst, people living outside the storm-ravaged areas will likely be hit up to make a charitable donation to support relief efforts in the south.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, however, warns residents to do some homework before opening their wallet, since scammers have already used links to purported charitable organizations as a way to steal personal information.
“Unfortunately, natural disasters can bring out the most shameless scammers,” Schneiderman said, in a release. “We’ve seen troubling reports of cybercriminals and fraudsters looking to exploit individuals who are simply trying to help those in need.”
Schneiderman offers these tips before contributing to a relief effort:
Make sure you’re familiar with the organization, its mission, and its effectiveness, before giving. Always ask for information in writing — be wary if an organization will not provide information about charitable programs and finances upon request.
Also check CharitiesNYS.com to ensure the charity is registered, and also to find out more about its mission and finances.
Find out from the charity what it will do with your money. Review the charity’s financial reports for information about how it spends donations.
Ask if the charity already has worked in the local area, or has relationships with any local relief organizations. Also ask what the charity plans to do with any excess donations.
Avoid charities that make emotional appeals, but are vague in answering questions.
Donate to organizations you’re familiar with, or have an experience assisting in disaster relief. Get information about charities that pop up solely in response to the hurricanes, or those with unfamiliar names.
Telephone calls asking for donations to charity often are made by a professional fundraiser who is required to register with the charities bureau. Remember, you can always hang up.
If you choose not to end the call, ask whether the telemarketer is registered, and how much of your donation will go to charity and how much the telemarketer is being paid.
Many telemarketers receive most of the money they raise. Giving directly to a charity avoids those costs.
Check the charity’s website or call the charity to confirm it has authorized contributions to be made via text message.
One thing to remember is donations via text messaging may not reach the charity until after your phone bill is paid. It could be faster to contribute directly to a charity.
Make sure your contribution to campaigns set up by individuals on sites such as GoFundMe or CrowdRise will go to charity and not to the person raising the funds. Don’t contribute unless you know that person.
These formats are usually not associated with legitimate charities.
Give your contribution by credit card or a check made payable to the charity.
Avoid giving credit card or personal information over the phone, or by text message. In all cases, make sure you’re familiar with the organization and check to see that the fundraising campaign is legitimate before donating.
If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work, or that a scam is taking place, call the charities bureau at (212) 416-8401, or email email@example.com.