A tragic event, such as an earthquake or hurricane, often prompts an outpouring of assistance from well-meaning citizens. The FTC reminds consumers who receive appeals to donate money in the aftermath of a natural disaster to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to requests. Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization or good cause. Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including the following:
Charity Fraud Warning Signs
- Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, by clicking on links contained within those messages.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
- Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by using various internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
- Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
- Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
- If you are solicited by a charity, don’t feel rushed or pressured into making an immediate commitment. Ask the caller or solicitor to provide written information about the charity’s programs and finances before you make a contribution.
- 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 search the OCRP Charitable Organization Database .
- 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.
- Report charitable solicitation fraud to OCRP by calling 804-786-1343 or complete the Charitable Solicitation Complaint Form.
Some of the major charities assisting in disaster relief efforts are:
- American Red Cross, 1-800-HELP-NOW
- Salvation Army, 1-800-SAL-ARMY
- The United Way, 1-800-272-4630
Contact the jurisdiction where the disaster occurred to find out about more options to provide assistance.
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