Virginia AG, Red Cross warn about scammers who take advantage of natural disasters

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Attorney General Mark Herring reminded Virginians Tuesday to be aware of potential scammers while donating to help those impacted by Hurricane Dorian.

Citing the growth of online crowdfunding, Herring warns that scammers will take advantage of natural disasters and organize fake charities to collect donations. The attorney general urged those interested in giving to remain cautious and to do their research when deciding to donate.

“Watching Hurricane Dorian devastate the Bahamas has been heartbreaking and the East Coast is now bracing for the storm to hit,” Herring said in a statement. “It is the first instinct of Virginians to help victims, but folks must be smart and exercise caution when donating to hurricane focused charities. Sadly, there are immoral people out there who will take advantage of natural disasters and set up fake charities just to line their own pockets. I am encouraging all Virginians to research a charity that is claiming to help hurricane victims thoroughly before donating any money.”

Scammers that take advantage of goodhearted people when a natural disaster like Hurricane Dorian hits is something that Jonathan McNamara, communications director for the American Red Cross, takes very seriously.

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“It’s very important that we want your donation to go to its end goal where you are trying to do because we know in these situations how valuable your money is,” McNamara said.

It’s important to research and make sure you’re giving to a charity you can trust, McNamara added. Websites like Charity Navigator can help.

“When in doubt, if you feel like something is off, there are other ways you can donate,” McNamara said. “By calling the charity, making sure you’re not making cash donations, making sure you’re writing checks specifically to the charity of choice.”

Herring’s office provided a list of suggestions when deciding to donate. They are all listed below:

  • On crowdfunding sites:
    • Check the creator or page owner’s credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
    • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site’s fraud protection measures.
    • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity’s programs and services.
  • Beware of “copy-cat” names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a “charity” has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
  • If contributing over the Internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (“OCRP”) at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP’s Charitable Organization Database online:
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective in aiding victims of a particular natural disaster.

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