As the impact of Hurricane Florence continues to impact our home state of North Carolina and our sister state South Carolina, the IRS, FTC, and FINRA have issued warnings about potential scams that prey on disaster victims and altruistic Americans. These warnings include:
Fake Charity Scams
There have been reports of numerous phone calls, emails and social media campaigns asking for money for Florence relief efforts. The FTC has posted a Charity Checklist for donors to follow. Among their recommendations are checking with the National Association of State Charity Officials to see if the group contacting you is legitimate. Another great resource is the Charity Navigators Hurricane Florence Page.
Flood Insurance Scams
Homeowners and renters throughout the Carolinas may get robocalls stating that their flood insurance policies have gone unpaid and immediate payment is necessary to maintain their policy. The Federal Trade Commission advises that anyone concerned about their flood insurance call their insurance carrier directly about their policy
Authorities warn Americans to avoid clicking links sent via e-mail or social media promising to link to a charitable organization to help aid Florence victims. These links may compromise your credit card information and infect your computer with malware. They could even steal your identity. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued a warning that these phishing scams often arise at the height of disasters and warn donors to be aware.
These scams are similar to phishing scams, but use a name or URL that is very similar to a real name of a charity or organization. These scams trick innocent people into thinking that they are at legitimate websites.
Authorities warn that criminals may establish crowdfunding scams on sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter convincing people that the proceeds will go to victims of Hurricane Florence, but then keep the money for themselves. Donors should take extra precaution to verify who they are donating to on such sites.
TIPS for Detecting Fraud
The IRS cautions people wishing to make disaster-related charitable donations to avoid scams by following these tips:
- Be sure to donate to recognized charities.
- Be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS websiteIRS.gov, has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find qualified charities. Donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
- 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. Scammers may use this information to steal a donor’s identity and money.
- Never give or send cash. For security and tax records purposes, contribute by check or credit card, or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
- Taxpayers suspecting fraud by email should visit IRS.gov and search for the keywords “Report Phishing.”
It is unfortunate that predators flourish during times of disaster. This should not deter those who want to help in this time of need. As the people affected pick up the pieces in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, let’s do so with an open eye and open heart.