Here's how to avoid scammers preying on your desire to help Harvey victims

BBB warns of efforts to profit from storm

DENVER -- The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Colorado authorities are already warning of scammers who are trying to intercept donations meant for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Yes, sadly, people try to profit from other people's misery.

The BBB says it's seeing "crowdfunding appeals of a dubious nature" and warns of "storm chasers" who will try to "make a quick buck off of clean-up efforts" in the days ahead. Both the Colorado Secretary of State's Office and Attorney General's Office sent out warnings about possible scams Monday as well, and urged people to visit CheckTheCharity.com to be sure any organization seeking donations is legitimate.

"Always with charitable giving there's a concern about whether or not the organization to which you give is valid, especially in a time like this when people's heartstrings are tugged and it's an urgent need," Krista Ferndelli of the BBB in Denver said Monday.

She said people shouldn't feel pressured to hurriedly donate.

"The disaster recovery and all of your efforts to contribute to the situation will be on-going for many months to come, so you don't need to feel like you have to donate today to make your dollar effective," Ferndelli said.

People can report suspected Hurricane Harvey scams to the BBB's Scam Tracker or the Texas Attorney General's office -- by phone, 800-621-0508, or email, consumeremergency@nag.texas.gov

The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips donors should keep in mind to avoid becoming a scam victim:

  1. Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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 who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance. 
  5. 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 Give.org tips on crowdfunding, check out this Wise Giving Wednesday post.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

To see the tips and a list of BBB Accredited Charities, click here.

Print this article Back to Top