Many Americans sat helpless as we watched the devastation that has recently hit the southern parts of the country. This started with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. Hurricane Irma then hit the Southeast and Hurricane Maria devastated multiple areas, especially Puerto Rico, just a few weeks later.
Early estimates for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma place property damage estimates between $150 and 200 million. Unfortunately, in the midst of human suffering, there are always those who are willing to try and make money off of other people. The latest scams preying on your generosity and empathy are already filling inboxes and taxing spam filters.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers to be on the lookout “for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.” This is because scammers have been using tragedies from floods, hurricanes, fires and even the attacks of 9/11 to cheat people out of money. These scammers will create an “official sounding name” that seems loosely connected to the tragedy and then solicit donations in the name of helping those affected.
The hurricanes have spawned massive flooding that has given these scammers a chance to set up flood relief funds that are really a way to steal donations. Pre-Internet, this would have been done through telephone “cold-calling.” Now, the scammers have gone hi-tech, creating elaborate websites and generating millions of emails to solicit these donations. Some are even going so far as to claim that they are representatives of local Red Cross chapters or that they are somehow affiliated with legitimate groups that are trying to do great work for those who are suffering.
Another scam that is becoming prevalent targets the victims of the hurricanes themselves. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have warned homeowners about a “robocall” scam where homeowners are being told that their flood owners insurance premiums are past due and they must pay immediately or their home won’t be covered. Of course, when the consumer calls the number to make the payment, they don’t realize they are talking to a con artist who is stealing their money.
Besides avoiding the “overnight” charities, the FTC has issued the following suggestions to protecting yourself from scammers:
- Only donate to established charities that you trust;
- If you aren’t sure about a charity’s reputation, you can check a variety of sources including the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. You can also check to see if the charity is formally registered in your state;
- Be sure that you designate exactly which disaster you want your money to support;
- If you receive an email soliciting funds, never click on a link or open an attachment as these will often give you a computer virus;
- Be especially wary of those that are requesting money through social media;
- Confirm your “by text” donations with the charity itself to ensure that it is received and accurate.
Americans have often risen to the occasion and supported their neighbors in times of need and disaster. This hurricane season has been no exception. But in your time of giving, make sure that the money you donate is going where it should and not to con artists who are looking to make a quick buck off the pain of others.