Following disasters, scammers frequently set up fraudulent charities to take advantage of consumers’ interest in helping victims. Beyond stealing victims’ money, these scams rob legitimate charities of funds that would otherwise go to support victims of disasters. Hurricane Idalia and the wildfires in Maui are no exception. At Fraud.org, we have seen an increasing tempo of reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for these natural disasters.
The basic premise of a charity scam is simple: fraudsters solicit donations on behalf of a non-profit effort, while actually diverting some (or all) of the funds to themselves. These phony charities crop up in many contexts in addition to natural disasters. For example, criminal charges have been brought in relation to scams targeting veterans assistance programs and political initiatives. In 2022, the FTC received over 10,000 reports of charity fraud. These scams can solicit funds through a variety of mediums, including social media, text messages, and robocalls. They sometimes impersonate governmental agencies or legitimate charity organizations, such as FEMA and the American Red Cross. However, they may also operate under a novel name and premise, trying to take advantage of media coverage in the wake of a disaster.
If you’re looking to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Idalia and the Maui wildfires, keep the following tips in mind:
- Don’t assume a charity is legitimate just because a friend promoted it on social media.
- Look for a history of charity work. If the organization was established a few days ago, it’s more likely to be a fraud.
- Be suspicious of charities seeking donations via cryptocurrency, gift cards, or wire transfers. These kinds of payment methods contain the least fraud protections and typically have greater uncertainty about who is receiving the funds. The safest way to donate is via credit card or debit card.
- Think twice before donating to a charity that is not listed on charitynavigator.org or the IRS’ tax exempt organization search.
- Legitimate charities shouldn’t pressure you into making a donation quickly.
- Check for signs that the charity is an imposter. Unusual wording and spelling mistakes are a red flag. Also be sure that the URL is spelled correctly—just one letter difference can redirect you to a scam.
- If you have been affected by a disaster, visit DisasterAssistance.gov for next steps on receiving federal aid.
If you or someone you know have been a victim of a charity scam, we urge you to report it via Fraud.org’s secure online complaint form. Complaints are shared with Fraud.org’s network of consumer protection and law enforcement partners who use complaints to identify trends and build cases.