Beware of donation scams in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

Beware of donation scams in the wake of Hurricane Harvey
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). Volunteers evacuate a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

PINE BELT (WDAM) - With Governor Phil Bryant asking Mississippi residents to stay put and not head to Texas to help with relief efforts, many of you may be turning to charities and organizations to make donations.

"In addition to our prayers, we need to open our pocketbooks,"  said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.  "Those people are really in trouble, they need our help now."

Unfortunately, some scammers may see this tragedy as an opportunity to take advantage of your generosity.

The Federal Trade Commission is urging you to be cautious of potential charity scams.  The FTC suggests you do research to make sure your donation will go to a reputable organization and that money will be used as promised.

Here are some tips from the FTC:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record in dealing with disasters.
  • Be alert to charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection to current events. 
  • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it.
  • Don't assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate.

"We do see an uptick in giving to charities," Hosemann said. "Mississippi is the most charitable giving state in the country and second of all, we all remember Katrina, so we will see an uptick in charitable contributions."

Hosemann said there are 3,600 registered charities in Mississippi.  You can search the state's database to make sure the charity is legitimate.

"There may be ones that are not registered in our state, we encourage people to look at the ones that are registered," Hosemann said.  "That gives you some comfort that it's a legitimate one and your dollars are going to the people who really need them now."

Hosemann said there are two things on the report that are important to look at. The first is how much the organization spends on management and how much goes directly to the charitable purpose.

"You'll see on there, where some charities may be 70 or 80% on management," Hosemann said. "Well, that's not one you should consider for your contribution because only 30 cents of every dollar is going to the actual beneficiaries, the charitable purpose."

The second thing to look for, Hosemann said, is if the organization is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit.

Hosemann suggests sending any donations, first, to an individual you know directly effected by the storm.  He said that way, there is no "management fee" and you don't have to worry about where the money is going.

Hosemann also suggests giving to the American Red Cross, which you won't find on Charitable Giving Report.  That is because the Red Cross is a part of the federal government.

To donate to the American Red Cross, you can call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-600-733-2767) or go to redcross.org.  You can also text the word "HARVEY" to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

"Mississippians are smart enough to remember our Katrina and how much we needed those contributions, so you need to be smart enough to take just a minute and make sure its getting to the people who need it, just like when we needed it," Hosemann said.

The Secretary of State's Office prosecuted several scam charities on the Gulf Coast following Katrina.

"We don't want that to happen again in Houston, they are not even through with their disaster at this point," Hosemann said.  "I would be careful to not take an email or a Facebook on something that sounds good without checking on it."

Here are just a few of the organizations from Charity Navigator  providing assistance in the wake of the storm:

  • All Hands Volunteers: A US-based, 501(c)3 non-profit organization that addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters by engaging and leveraging volunteers, partner organizations and local communities.
  • Americares: An organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster so they can reach their full potential. Since it was established nearly 40 years ago, Americares has provided more than $13 billion in aid to 164 countries, including the United States.
  • Convoy of Hope: A faith-based, nonprofit organization with a driving passion to feed the world through children's feeding initiatives, community outreaches and disaster response.

Here is a list of food banks in both affected areas and in places where those affected may be heading to: