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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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BBB Tip of the Week: Beware of Hurricane Harvey scams

By Kirstin Davis Marketplace Director

Watching the devastation unfold from Hurricane Harvey is heart-wrenching and it makes people want to help. Unfortunately, disaster, chaos, crisis and heartache attract scammers. Better Business Bureaus already are seeing crowdfunding appeals and websites of a dubious nature, and in the days ahead, expect to see “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off of cleanup efforts.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:

Beware of “look-alike” websites. It is common for domain names to skyrocket that are similar to the disaster or well-known organizations, i.e., harveyrelief.org. These sites can look legitimate, with dramatic pictures and detailed stories of need. Keep in mind that photos, graphics and donation accounts are very easy for anyone to set up on the internet and promote.

Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations. Visit Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.

See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those that are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Understand crowdfunding. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people you personally know who have posted requests for assistance.

Consumers are urged to report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker) or the Texas Attorney General’s hotline (800-621-0508 or consumeremergency@nag.texas.gov).

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