Be careful who you donate to. As donation requests overwhelm the internet and our email accounts, the FBI and IRS are warning that many of these charities could be fake.
Disaster fraud online became a major problem after Katrina. It happened after Rita. It happened after Sandy, too. Unfortunately, investigators are convinced scam artists are busy right now targeting those who want to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and will seek out more potential victims in Irma's wake.
The most common type of disaster fraud happens through fake charities that present themselves with fake websites and fraudulent emails. They can be convincing, with images that may even resemble legitimate organizations like the red cross and with stories that will pull at your heart strings. The IRS says, it's very important that you don't donate on impulse to protect your money and to make sure that your intended donations go to the people you're trying to help.
Here are five ways to avoid becoming a victim.
- STOP AND THINK
- DONATE TO CHARITIES YOU KNOW
- DON'T GIVE CASH
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
- LEAN ON ORGANIZATIONS THAT VET CHARITIES FOR YOU
Anabel Marquez works at the Internal Revenue Service and says they're on alert because the internet has made it so much easier for criminals to get away with fraud. "Criminals will take advantage of people's generosity to rob them and they'll do this by establishing fake charities, so at the IRS we just want people to be very careful and to take the time to check out the charity asking for their money before they donate," said Marquez. After Katrina the FBI investigated nearly 4,500 websites for fraud, and reported that many of them were. Eventually 900 defendants were charged with Katrina-related fraud. That's why they advise you donate to charities you already know well.
The IRS has a new tool called Exempt Select Check. Click that link or just go to IRS.gov and search for Exempt Select Check. Once you're there, you can type in the name of the charity or its EIN number. If it is a legitimate charity it will show up in your search. If not, you should hold off on donating to it until you've checked it out further.
There are also some organizations that vet charities for you. Charity Navigator has a hot topic page in which they list the top organizations they recommend for donations based on the financial information and transparency. Click here to see their Harvey donation page. They list 40 charitable organizations that they've vetted for transparency and all have a donation fund set aside specifically to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Give.org also has a list of charities that were evaluated by either the BBB Wise Giving Alliance or the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston. Click here to see their 20 standards of accountability.
Finally, both the FBI and the IRS advise extreme caution when approached and asked for in-person donations. Those are most often cash transactions and the accountability is low. The IRS suggests donations be made with a credit card or check, rather than cash, so you can track your donation.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud was established by the Justice Department to investigate fraud after Hurricane Katrina. Investigators ask that suspected fraud be reported immediately.
TO REPORT FRAUD:
- Call 866-720-5721
- email firstname.lastname@example.org
- visit the complaint center online at www.IC3.gov
Here are organizations that have been listed as vetted by Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance:
BBB Wise Giving Alliance's List