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Be Wary of Natural Disaster Scams

Natural Disaster ScamsAs climate change continues to create unpredictable weather patterns, natural disasters are becoming a more common occurrence. In December 2021, the tornado that hit Mayfield, KY surpassed the Tri-State Tornado of 1925 as the longest and deadliest tornado on record. Wildfires are worsening on the west coast and snow and ice pelts the east coast harder each passing winter.

It can be disheartening to find out you donated to a scam or that your donation was used for something other than what you intended. Learning how to identify natural disaster scams and how to donate to disaster charities wisely is key to ensuring that your donations go where you want them to. Here’s what to know and how a consumer protection lawyer can help you.

What Are Natural Disaster Scams?

In the wake of natural disasters like the Mayfield tornado, rogue charities that claim to be collecting monetary donations for victims and their families seem to pop up everywhere. You may not even have heard of them before. Many of these are bogus organizations operated by individuals attempting to take advantage of the latest crisis.

Instead of donating the money to the disaster advertised, they may use the money for another purpose. They may also sell the information collected to marketing agencies that put together cold call lists. A natural disaster scam is any faux charity or collection for a specific disaster that uses the funds raised for any purpose other than donating to the victims of that disaster.

How to Spot a Natural Disaster Scam

While many sophisticated scammers are difficult to identify, there are some ways you can spot a natural disaster scam. When you donate money to a cause you care about, you want to be sure that your donation actually goes to help the people affected by the disaster. Some indicators that you may be dealing with a scammer include but are not limited to:

  • Charities without addresses or telephone numbers
  • Charities that have appeared practically overnight after a natural disaster
  • Charities that are required to register in the state but fail to do so
  • Charities that ask for gift card or wire transfer donations instead of by check or credit card
  • Charities with multiple negative reviews

How to Avoid Charity Scams

If you choose to donate money after a natural disaster, it’s important to ensure that your funds will be utilized in the manner you intend. It may be challenging to get your money back after the fact, and in some cases this may not be possible. Avoiding a scam before you donate to it is always ideal. Here are some easy ways to steer clear of a charity scam.

  • Look for the charity yourself. Make sure the charity has a reputable website with information about the organization and its goals. Avoid donating to charities that reach out to you or solicit you for donations.
  • Check online reviews. Don’t donate to organizations that have lots of bad reviews or have multiple users calling them a scam.
  • Pay by check or credit card. If the charity is a scam, you have more chargeback options.
  • Donate to large, reputable charities. Small charities that are less well known are more likely to be a scam.
  • Specify the disaster you want to donate to. Many organizations, like the Red Cross, help with a multitude of charity projects. You should be clear about where your donation should go, e.g. by writing at the bottom of your check which disaster you are donating to. If you don’t, you may donate to an organization that uses your funds for another project.
  • Don’t download email attachments. If you are solicited by a charity, even one that you know, don’t open or download email attachments. They could be a computer virus.
  • Vet crowdfunding requests. Crowdfunding is more popular than ever, but it’s also easier to set up a scam this way. You may or may not want to consider avoiding donating to a crowd fund. If you do, make sure to read through the entire post and make sure you’re comfortable sending your money to this particular cause.
  • Ask questions. Ask someone with the charity where the money will be going, how much of it will be used for what purpose, and any other important questions you need the answer to before donating. Be wary of charities that aren’t happy to get these answers for you.

When to Consult a Consumer Protection Lawyer in Massachusetts & New Hampshire

If you donated to a natural disaster scam, a consumer protection lawyer can help. Your attorney can assist you with pursuing compensation and ensuring that the scammers that took advantage of you are penalized.

At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we understand how frustrating it is to donate your hard-earned money to a natural disaster charity only to find out later that it was a scam. Our experienced consumer protection lawyers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire can help you recover after donating to a scam.

Contact us today for a consultation by dialing (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084. Our legal team is available now to assist you with offices in Salem, MA.

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