RICHMOND, Va. —- The Attorney General’s Office and consumer watchdogs want you to protect your cash from scammers targeting those who want to help after Hurricane Florence.
“In a case like this, they really want to give. They really want to help,” Adrienne Gonzalez said. “But I feel like there are certain people that are ruining the platform for everybody else.”
Gonzalez is the founder of GoFraudMe, a Richmond-based company that looks into scammers using the crowdfunding website GoFundMe to target victims. She started it in 2015.
“When you look at the scammers, you know, they come out of the woodworks,” she said, describing the spike in fake charities and campaigns after natural disasters.
Gonzalez knows what it’s like to feel inspired to act after seeing devastation. After Hurricane Sandy, she went to New York City to rescue cats in shelters.
“Being on the ground after Hurricane Sandy a couple of years ago, that it was very disorganized. So sometimes it’s best to leave that up to the professionals, like the Red Cross and local authorities,” she said.
If you want to give, Gonzalez says there are a few things you need to keep in mind. She suggests taking a look at local first responders or towns to see what they actually need, instead of donating “a truck of clothes people can’t use.”
Read the fine print and description of the organization or charity. They should have a clear plan of where your money is going and how it will be used.
“Just make sure that there a solid plan and the plan isn’t just ‘I’m going to get money to the affected areas,” she said.
Gonzalez says some people may mean well, but their message isn’t clear. For example, a YouTube star was “raising money for her home” affected by the hurricane but was actually fundraising for her hometown.
The Attorney General’s office said Monday they have not received any reports of scammers related to Florence, but still want you to keep an eye out.
If a charity pops up almost overnight after a disaster, the Attorney General’s office urges you to be cautious. Also, if the charity’s name sounds similar to another organization, it may be a “copy-cat.”
Charities that say they’re based in Virginia can be checked out online with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There will be a registration associated with it.
The biggest thing, though, Gonzalez says is just asking for more information. Charities and crowdsourcing pages should provide more details about the services and cause your donation will go to.
“If this person is on the internet asking for money, you have every right as a potential donor to send them a message and say ‘hey, what’s your plan for the money,’” Gonzalez added.
If you notice something fishy with a GoFundMe page, you can report it to the website. If you donated, they can help you get your money back.
Other scams can also be reported to the Attorney General’s office by phone at (800) 552-9963 or online.