As Hurricane Harvey pummeled Texas and Louisiana with deadly downpours, thousands of generous Americans responded with an outpouring of financial support. Unfortunately, times of crisis can bring out the worst in a few people even as it brings out the best in many.
Government officials and consumer advocates have issued warnings about scams posing as legitimate relief efforts. Here’s some advice on how consumers can donate safely and help the victims of Hurricane Harvey without becoming victims themselves.
Investigate before you donate
Longtime charities such as American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse are familiar names in disaster relief, but what about groups recently organized in response to Harvey? Several monitoring agencies and websites can help you check their credentials:
- Charity Navigator
- Charity Watch
- National Association of State Charity Officials
You may encounter requests for donations in any number of ways — on TV, through social media, by phone, etc. Why the need for caution? Charity scams use a lot of underhanded tactics, right down to choosing bogus titles that mimic the names of reputable charities.
If you run across something that seems suspicious, you can file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission, or contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone at (866) 720-5721.
Be on your guard online
Fake internet charities are one of the regrettable side effects of the Information Age. In the case of bogus disaster relief efforts, some online scammers start planning for hurricane season months in advance.
A common scheme involves registering domains that incorporate the names of storms listed in the National Weather Service forecast each spring. Before Hurricane Harvey even started to take shape, there may well have been fraudulent charity websites with “Harvey” in their domain names waiting to be launched.
Safety tips for online charitable donations include:
- Look for https:// and the padlock. Don’t provide any personal information (name, credit card number, etc.) to a website that doesn’t use security protocols. Whether by design or unintentionally, an unsecured website could expose your information to identity thieves. On a secure website, the address will begin with https:// instead of http:// (“s” stands for secure). You should also see a padlock icon and the word “Secure” in the upper left corner of your browser window.
- Be wary of links. An unsolicited email that asks you to click a link is a red flag under any circumstances, even if the email came from someone you know. Their account may have been hijacked by criminals who are now trying to ensnare you.
- Go right to the source. If you have questions about a GoFundMe campaign, for example, GoFundMe administrators recommend contacting the organizer directly (or clicking the Report Campaign Button).
Concerned about cash? You can donate points
If you have general security concerns about donating money directly, don’t worry. Your credit card’s rewards program may have a way to help you be cautious and generous at the same time.
Many rewards programs let you give rewards points or miles to charity, which the card issuer converts to a cash donation. In some cases, credit card issuers have set up specific webpages for Hurricane Harvey donations.
Credit card companies with charitable donation programs include:
Remember, you won’t have to visit an unfamiliar website to make a donation. Just log in to your account and follow your credit card issuer’s instructions for donating points.
Check with your rewards program for rules and requirements. (For example, your card issuer may require a minimum number of points/miles for charitable donations.)