On Your Side: Avoiding Storm Donation Scams - WRBL

On Your Side: Avoiding Storm Donation Scams

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Lee County, Ala - Thirty-two Lee County homes have been destroyed and about 100 houses were damaged because of the storms earlier this week. Donations help families that have been removed from these homes as they wait for their insurance claims or federal assistance; but officials are warning you to not to let scammers take advantage of your generosity.

“We all want to give in these circumstances,” said Leonard Crain of the Better Business Bureau. “Just be sure that we know who we're giving to and that it's to a worthwhile organization that's going to do right by our donations.”

A few worthwhile organizations are the Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way of Alabama, also known as the charity you donate to when dialing 2-1-1 in Alabama. According to financial documents filed to the IRS, United Way of Alabama gives 96% of their donations toward services, such as storm recovery. They pay administrative and fundraising costs with the other 4%. The Red Cross gives 90% of your money back towards serving the community, with 10% going toward administrative and fundraising expenses. The Salvation Army gives 96% of their donations toward service programs, and the other 4% going toward administrative costs.

Crain warns that there are people and organizations out there that take your donations and give 0% of it toward services. Instead, they keep it for themselves.

“People like this pop up after every natural disaster, it happens,” said Crain.

After Hurricane Sandy, officials found over 1,000 fake charity websites ran by people hoping to make money off the disaster. After the storm, a couple started the “Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation" and the couple claimed to be storm victims raising money for others who had also suffered devastating losses. But the two actually lived 100 miles north of the Shore and they used donations to pay off credit card debt and other personal expenses and items, according to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. The couple made over $600,000 in donations.

To make sure your money is actually going to the victims, Crane says to:

  • Donate to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. You can check with the Secretary of State to search for registered charities.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Crane also says if you want your donation to go straight toward storm relief in Lee County, you need to indicate to the charity that you want to do so.

David Hurst

David Hurst, a graduate of the Univ. of Georgia, focuses on how your tax dollars are being spent.

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