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Here are five ways to avoid becoming a victim of disaster fraud

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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.

  1. STOP AND THINK
  2. DONATE TO CHARITIES YOU KNOW
  3. DON'T GIVE CASH
  4. DO YOUR RESEARCH
  5. 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.

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TO REPORT FRAUD:

  • Call 866-720-5721
  • email disaster@leo.gov
  • 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

ALS Association / Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association

American Red Cross

AmeriCares

ASPCA / American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Brother’s Brother Foundation

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese Galveston-Houston

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Change Happens!

Christian Community Service Center

Church World Service

Citizens for Animal Protection

Communities in Schools

Direct Relief

DonorsChoose.org

El Centro de Corazon

Episcopal Relief and Development

Feeding America

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First Book

GlobalGiving Foundation

Greater Houston Community Foundation

Habitat for Humanity

Houston Area Women’s Center

Houston Children’s Charity

Houston Food Bank

Houston Habitat for Humanity

Houston Humane Society

Houston SPCA

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Humane Society of the United States

Humble Area Assistance Ministries (H.A.A.M.)

Islamic Relief USA

MAP International

Open Door Mission Foundation

Operation USA

PetSmart Charities

Salvation Army

Save the Children

United Methodist Committee on Relief

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United Way of Greater Houston

United Way Worldwide

West Houston Assistance Ministries

World Vision

Episcopal Relief & Development

 Charity Navigator's List  
Episcopal Relief & Development
Matthew 25: Ministries
Operation Blessing International
World Hope International
American Kidney Fund
Communities In Schools National Office
SBP
Children's Hunger Fund
Star of Hope Mission
DonorsChoose.org
Medical Teams International
Brother's Brother Foundation
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
ShelterBox USA
International Orthodox Christian Charities
American Red Cross
Houston Food Bank
Delivering Good
The ALS Association, National Office
All Hands Volunteers
UJA-Federation of New York
YMCA of Greater Houston
Convoy of Hope
The Zakat Foundation of America
Feeding America
Islamic Relief USA
GlobalGiving
Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Save the Children
Best Friends Animal Society
Small Steps Nurturing Center
Direct Relief
Habitat for Humanity International
Child Foundation
First Book
Operation USA
MAP International
World Relief
United Way of Greater Houston
Habitat for Horses
International Relief Teams
MedShare
Americares
Heart to Heart International
Samaritan's Purse
World Vision  

Watch this Circa story on how fake posts about Hurricane Irma are causing panic on social media.

Hurricane Irma clickbait content

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