How to help Hurricane Ian victims and avoid charity scams

Natural disasters are oftentimes when generous people get exploited more.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 10:30 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- When disaster strikes, so do scammers who want to cash in on money meant for charities. “Scams are prolific. It’s everywhere. It’s in your inbox. It’s in your phone,” said Kevin Scally, the chief relationship officer for Charity Navigator, “Unfortunately, you have individuals that pose as organizations or individuals that pose as individuals that have been affected by the storm and go out and ask for money. It’s a tremendous, tremendous impact and unfortunately it does take away from good, upstanding non-profits that are fundraising and trying to help people that really need it.”

One of the most notable disaster relief organizations is the Red Cross, which makes it a common target for scammers to spoof. The bad guys will use the Red Cross name or logo to try and collect money from unsuspecting donors. “We haven’t seen anything yet but it’s disheartening whenever we do learn about scams involving the Red Cross brand. Our emblem is a universally recognized and respected symbol of protection and humanitarian aid across the globe. Unfortunately, this also makes it a common target,” said Melody Birkett, the regional communications director for the American Red Cross in Arizona and New Mexico. “When we learn about situations like this, we notify law enforcement.”

Scammers will use all kinds of tactics to try to cash in on disasters. A common red flag is a sense of urgency. If someone is pressuring you to give right now, hold off and do a more research. Scammers may also request payment by gift card or wire transfer, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Legitimate non-profits don’t want your money on a gift card. “Give with your heart, but also give with your head, and what I mean by that is to do a little bit of due diligence,” Scally said. “Only about 30% of people are using non-profit evaluators before they give and so that means that sometimes the money goes to scams or the money goes to organizations that maybe aren’t as impactful.”

In response to Hurricane Ian, GoFundMe launched a hub for fundraisers related to storm relief. There are dozens of fundraisers posted so far, and the number of campaigns is expected to grow as power is restored and people are able to return home and survey damage. GoFundMe’s Meghan Weltman told On Your Side only verified fundraisers will be posted to the hub.

“When you’re a donor and you want to make that donation and comb through these stories, you have a place to go where you know that every campaign that you’re seeing, every fundraiser, has been verified by our team,” Weltman said. “Once a campaign is considered to be verified, it means they know who the campaign organizer is, they know who they’re raising funds for, who the ultimate beneficiary is and how they plan to get those funds to them.” GoFundMe also has what they they call a ‘giving guarantee.’ If donors believe their money was misused, they can submit a claim to be investigated, and they could be eligible for a refund.