How to make sure your money reaches Harvey victims

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Amid a struggle for survival in the south comes a warning from experts about scammers trying to take advantage of a natural disaster.

"It's people's natural inclination to want to do whatever they can for their neighbors. And scammers take advantage of that desire," said Jason Duquette-Hoffmann, a program coordinator for the Consumer Assistance Program

The Consumer Assistance Program warns these "charity predators" try to hit victims of all ages. Tactics often include an emotional appeal and an urgent request.

"In the past, what we have often seen is unsolicited text messages, Facebook messages or email that looks to be from-- or represents itself as from a particularly well-recognized charity," Duquette-Hoffman said.

Charities don't have to register with the state to solicit funds in Vermont but paid fundraisers, hired by charities, do. However, in today's age, many donations are sent online through sites like GoFundMe and even Facebook.

"Those kinds of campaigns can do a lot of good right where it's needed or they can be hard to really verify," Duquette-Hoffman said. "What we encourage folks to do is to know who you're giving to."

Before you click contribute, also consider how you're transferring funds.

"Providing bank account information may not give you as much protection as a credit card, where, if you determine a charge may be false, you may have some ability to dispute that charge down the line," Duquette-Hoffman said.

There have not been reports of Harvey scams in Vermont yet, but this consumer group warns it could happen fast.

"It's unfortunate that we have to exercise more care in these kinds of situations, but if we want to do the most good it's important that we take that time to make sure that we send that money where it needs to go," Duquette-Hoffman said.

There are a trusted few websites that can help you research a charity before you donate, including info on how much of your money actually goes to the cause, their effectiveness and financial standards.

And if you get a suspicious call or message that may be a scam, the Consumer Assistance Program wants to hear from you at 1-800-649-2424.

Trusted websites offering information on charities:

Charity Navigator -- charitynavigator.org -- offers information on a charity's background, including how much of your money actually goes to the cause.

Charity Watch -- charitywatch.org -- grades groups based on how well they use your money.

Give.org -- give.org -- part of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. This site accredits charities based on a variety of strict effectiveness and financial standards.

Vermont Secretary of State -- https://www.sec.state.vt.us/ -- see if a charity is a registered nonprofit organization in Vermont.