One of the unfortunate byproducts of most any disaster is scam artists who try to take advantage of people’s generosity and desire to help others. Hurricane Dorian is no exception.
“We want to encourage those that want to give and help. Lives were lost, property was destroyed, it's so important that we help our neighbors,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a press release. “At the same time… there are often people that want to take advantage and scam Floridians and take their hard-earned money when they're just trying to help. Avoid solicitors using high pressure tactics that persuade you to give, determine whether a charity is legitimate by visiting CharityNavigator.org, and make sure that, when you’re evaluating what charity to give to, you’re asking questions.”
Pinellas County Consumer Protection is advising citizens to be wary of solicitations for charitable contributions. Officials urge residents to make sure charities are legit before making a donation.
“All charities soliciting within Florida — excluding religions, educational and government entities — are required to register and file financial information with the with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,” Consumer Protection said in a press release.
To check whether a charitable organization is properly registered, visit Check-A-Charity, a resource that provides the information reported to the department or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).
Consumer Protection offers some additional advice:
• Always be wary of people soliciting on behalf of victims of natural disasters.
• Do not judge an organization based solely on its name. Many organizations have names that sound like those of reputable organizations but may be fraudulent.
• Ask for a copy of the charity’s financial report to determine how much of your contribution is going toward the cause and how much for administrative and fundraising costs.
• Beware of pressure tactics to give immediately. Don’t let emotional appeals or photos persuade you into giving. Make sure the solicitation is legitimate.
• Some charitable groups employ paid solicitors, in which case, not all of your donation will go to the charitable cause. Check to see if this is the case.
• Ask if donations are tax deductible.
• Never give cash. Contribute by check made payable to the organization, never to an individual’s name.
• For more information on how to safety donate after a disaster, visit www.pinellascounty.org/consumer/charities.htm. To report suspected fraud, call 727-464-6200.
The Federal Communications Commission offers a few additional tips, including verifying all phone numbers for charities by visiting their official website. FCC also says not to open any suspicious email asking for donations or other assistance. So do not click the links or open the attachments. In addition, be wary of social media posts and verify that they are legit.
The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance is encouraging donors to support experienced disaster relief organization, such as the American Red Cross, Direct Relief, Global Giving, Heart to Heart International, Salvation Army and Save the Children.
Visit Give.org for more information.
“Donors should watch out for newly created organizations that emerge that are either inexperienced in addressing disasters or may be seeking to deceive donors at a vulnerable time,” BBB said.
BBB also expects to see price-gougers and “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off of preparation and clean-up efforts. Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker.
One more tip from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Always obtain and save a printed copy of your donation or a receipt showing the amount of the contribution.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.