HOUSTON -- Crooks hoping to cash in on people wanting to help victims of Hurricane Harvey have already launched scams and more are expected, the Better Business Bureau warned Monday.
The BBB's national office said some of its local offices are seeing "crowdfunding appeals of a dubious nature."
More are expected in the days ahead from "'storm chasers' looking to make a quick buck off of clean-up efforts," the BBB said.
Crowdfunding websites such as gofundme.com and kickstarter.com permit people to launch direct appeals to the public and to collect money online. There are many other crowdfunding sites.
The agency offered these tips:
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 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 intentioned, may not 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. Some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, making it difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is best to give to people who you personally know have posted requests for assistance.
5. 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. Remember that for many communities recovery will take many months or years to accomplish. Those truly concerned about helping communities bounce back will have many opportunities to help.
Report suspected scams at the Better Business Bureau website, bbb.org/scamtracker, or to the Texas Attorney General’s hotline 800-621-0508.
In Louisiana, report scams to Jim Seago, Louisiana Attorney General’s Office 225-326-6453.
The BBB also provides free reports on relief organizations seeking funds at Give.org.