Better Business Bureau Warns of Hurricane Harvey Scams

Donations have been pouring in from around the country to support communities hit by Hurricane Harvey. But some people are already taking advantage of the crisis and scamming donors.

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning about donation scams and recommend you go to to make sure the relief organization you want to donate to, is reputable.

In addition to visiting the website, the Better Business Bureau suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind before donating:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intended, 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 who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
  4. 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 who you personally know that have posted requests for assistance. For more tips on crowdfunding, check out this Wise Giving Wednesday post.
  5. Phases of disaster relief. Remember that every disaster has several phases – rescue, emergency relief, and recovery. Each part relies on public support and continuing funding for success. The need for donations doesn’t stop when the headlines do.
  6. Recovery time line. For many communities, recovery will be a long-term activity that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. Those truly concerned about helping communities bounce back will have many opportunities to help.
  7. Disaster planning. Although it may seem obvious, no one wants to experience a repeat performance of a disaster. Areas that work toward recovery will probably also need to develop plans to better respond to a similar storm in the future. Even those that already had measures in place can find ways to improve based on experience.

Keith Ellis from SHP Financial in Plymouth agrees with the BBB, adding that donating by credit card or check is the best option.

"You shouldn’t give cash and you shouldn’t give donations over the phone," Ellis said. "Make sure you do your homework, go online."

The Better Business Bureau recommends donating to the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, Direct Relief, Humane Society of the United States, the United Way of Greater Houston, Save the Children, and the City of Houston Relief Fund. Click here for more national charities assisting in helping with the devastation.

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