Virginia Attorney General warns Virginians to avoid hurricane scams

As the East Coast begins to recover from Hurricane Florence, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging Virginians to exercise caution as they consider donating money to assist victims in their recovery.

Sadly, scammers often use natural disasters such as hurricanes to set up fake charities where the money collected is pocketed by the scammer. As crowdfunding becomes more popular, it is especially important to research a crowdfunding page to make sure it is legitimate before donating.

“The images we are seeing out of the areas hit by Hurricane Florence are heartbreaking, and it is the first instinct of Virginians to help victims during this time of need,” said Attorney General Herring. “Folks must be smart and cautious when donating to hurricane focused charities because the sad truth is there are immoral people out there who will take advantage of a natural disaster to line their own pockets. I would encourage everyone to do their research before donating money to any charity that claims to help victims of this storm.”

Prior to making any contributions, Attorney General Herring encourages potential donors to take some common-sense precautions. While there are many legitimate organizations that provide relief to disaster victims, there are also many con artists that will use the phone, e-mail, U.S. Mail, the internet, or personal contact to try to separate you from your money. Always follow these tips when considering a charitable donation:

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.
  • 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.

You can report charitable solicitation fraud to the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs and the Office of the Attorney General at the following addresses and telephone numbers:

OFFICE OF CHARITABLE AND REGULATORY PROGRAMS
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218
(804) 786-1343
(804) 225-2666 (fax)
http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/food-charitable-solicitation.shtml

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Consumer Protection Section
202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(800) 552-9963 (if calling from Virginia)
(804) 786-2042 (phone) (if calling from Richmond area)
(804) 225-4378 (fax)
consumer@oag.state.va.us