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Disaster relief scams
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Security & privacy

Storm scams are here — How to avoid them in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

It’s a sad state of affairs that scammers will jump on any opportunity to rope in new victims, no matter how severe or tragic an event may be. Any event that affects the world or is well-known is fair game. For example, disaster relief scams are swirling around at alarming rates.

Plus, the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II has already given rise to countless scams and examples of misinformation. With all the news of her passing, crooks have plenty of room to slip in. Tap or click here for tips on spotting the scams surrounding the Queen’s death.

Natural disasters are prime targets for scammers. With Typhoon Merbok, Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian leaving destruction in their wake, some genuinely sick individuals are taking advantage of the victims and people trying to help them. Here’s what to watch out for.

Why disaster relief scams are all over the internet

Millions of people across Florida were without power after Hurricane Ian. It’s one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S., causing flooding and trapping people in their homes.

If you’re in an area hit by recent storms, people may offer to help in exchange for payment. They could pose as government officials or just people who want to assist.

RELATED: Please don’t run outside and livestream hurricanes

The Federal Trade Commission is warning about these so-called helpers. Anyone who asks for personal information or payment upfront is a scammer.

If you want to help out, be very careful where you go to donate. Scammers set up fake funds and disaster recovery organizations that steal your money or use your personal information for identity theft.

Legitimate ways to donate to help disaster victims

If you want to contribute to the victims of the recent natural disasters, here’s how:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust and with a proven record of dealing with disasters. The Better Business Bureau has an accreditation process you can check out at give.org.
  • Use the Charity Navigator’s ratings at charitynavigator.org to find and support nonprofits that align with your passions and values.
  • CharityWatch lets you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. The organization also exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor. Learn more at charitywatch.org.
  • Candid has a search tool for researching nonprofits at https://candid.org.
  • Use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search at irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search to see if your donation would be tax deductible.
  • You can find your state charity regulator at nasconet.org

Be wary of crowdfunding sites

Anyone can start an account on a crowdfunding site and ask for money. The money raised goes to the campaign organizer, who can distribute it as they see fit. A dishonest organizer can take the money and run.

If you use these platforms to donate, do your homework. If you don’t know the campaign organizer, look them up online. The crowdfunding site should tell you who they are. Don’t donate to that campaign if you have trouble finding the necessary information.

Regarding crowdfunding, it’s best to know and trust the person you’re giving money.

Not all crowdfunding platforms are built equally. Some have higher fees than others, and not all of them verify their campaigns. Check out the site’s FAQs and help resources before donating.

More ways to stay safe from disaster relief scams

Follow these tips to avoid falling victim to scammers and thieves:

  • Never give personal data if you can’t verify someone’s identity. Criminals only need your name, email address and telephone number to rip you off.
  • Be especially careful about social media posts and email messages asking for disaster relief donations. Watch for spelling errors and fishy URLs.
  • Don’t do it if someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, wiring money or cryptocurrency.
  • Always donate by credit card, which offers more protection.
  • Report charity scams to the FTC: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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