Consumer alert: Give, but give wisely to Hurricane Harvey victims

Attorney General offers disaster relief giving tips

DES MOINES – As Iowans answer the call to help Hurricane Harvey victims, Attorney General Tom Miller reminds Iowans to give generously, but to give wisely.
“Iowans are already stepping up to help the staggering number of people impacted by this unprecedented hurricane and flooding event,” Miller said. “I want to ensure that Iowans trying to help people who are suffering aren’t themselves victimized by scammers.”
Tips for giving wisely

• Know who you are giving to. Give to established and familiar organizations. While many pop-up relief efforts may be legitimate, others may provide relatively small amounts of donations to those who need them, or may even be outright scams. Be watchful for sound-alike organizations.

• Be wary of callers seeking donations. Don’t give to someone who calls you unless you are certain the caller represents an organization you are familiar with. Scammers can spoof caller ID to fake the information that appears on your display. Using a credit card, versus a debit card, provides you with additional consumer protections. Avoid using a pre-paid money card or wiring money, and do not provide gift card numbers.

• Be wary of emails and social media posts seeking donations. If you receive an email seeking a donation, be careful about clicking on links or attachments, which could contain malicious software (malware). Scammers can direct you to fake websites that look legitimate but are not. It’s best to go to that organization’s known website if you plan to donate online.

• Avoid providing cash to someone who shows up at your door. Ask to see the person’s identification, and don’t let someone pressure you into allowing him or her inside or into you making a donation on the spot. It’s best to let the person know you will consider donating directly to the organization. If you decide to donate through that person, ask for a receipt. If you feel uncomfortable about the situation, call law enforcement.

• Be cautious about crowdfunding. There are legitimate online crowdfunding disaster relief efforts, but there are also ones to avoid. Treat a crowdfunding effort like you would treat a donation jar placed next to a cash register—make sure you understand the person or organization behind it, exactly how your contribution will be used, whether your donation is tax-deductible, whether a third party collects fees in conjunction with the crowdfunding site, whether the website protects you against fraud, and whether the site has a policy about protecting and sharing your personal information.

To learn more about a charity, go online. Several organizations provide free online resources to help you evaluate a charity, including whether it’s a tax-exempt organization and how much it spends on administrative expenses. Places to check include the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (give.org), GuideStar (guidestar.org), Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). You can check an organization’s tax status through IRS Select Check at (www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check).

If you suspect a disaster relief effort is fraudulent, contact the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 888-777-4590 (outside the Des Moines metro area only), email consumer [at] iowa [dot] gov, or file a complaint at iowaattorneygeneral.gov.

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