With donations coming in after Hurricane Harvey displaced thousands in Texas, officials in New Jersey have issued a warning about fake charities.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs said in a statement that New Jersey residents should “investigate before you donate” while preparing to make donations. Suggestions from the department include giving to charities you know about and being aware of “pop up” charities that include the name of the storm.
“Those looking to help should seek out reputable and legitimate charities,” Steve Lee, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a statement. “Residents should always take the necessary steps to make sure their money is actually going to help those in need.”
Early estimates of damages due to Harvey have ballooned to more than $100 billion. At least 10,000 people have been housed in Houston's largest shelter, the convention center, which has a designated capacity of 5,000.
Irwin Vogelman, the director of operations at Center for Food Action, said he had received phone calls about what to send in terms of donations. Vogelman said it’ was simple: money.
“If you send products, then you’re spending extra money on freights to send,” Vogelman said. He recommended sending checks and avoid cash. “What you can do with money is you can do anything. If you send them money, they can use immediately. Money goes further."
The idea of fake charities is not a new scheme, New Jersey state Attorney General Christopher Porrino said.
“Sadly, there are always those scammers who look to take advantage of disaster for their own benefit,” Porrino said in a statement. “New Jersey residents are always willing to help out their neighbors when tragedy strikes, often by making donations to aid with recovery.”
Below are things the Division of Consumer Affairs warns people to look out for prior to making donations.
Don't be fooled by a convincing name or professional-looking website. Dishonest charities may use impressive names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
Beware of unsolicited and phony email notices that claim to be from a charity asking for your credit card information. This scam is called "phishing" and could be used by thieves to commit identity theft. If the charity is unfamiliar to you, check whether the group is registered with Consumer Affairs' Charities Registration Section. If the organization is registered or you know the organization, call directly to find out if the email notice is valid.
Do not make checks payable to individuals; make checks payable only to those organizations listed as active in the division's database.
Be wary of providing personal or financial information, even to charities you've confirmed are legitimate. Limit the information to what is needed to process your donation.
Social media sites can also perpetuate scams. Do not blindly give via these mediums. As with any charity, investigate the groups behind such pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization