In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there is an outpouring of generosity and support from the local community and even the rest of the world. Many are opening their hearts and their wallets to help rebuild homes and repair businesses which were destroyed by this catastrophic storm. While there are many legitimate charities out there that will direct your monetary donations to the right place (such as the Red Cross), there are many more that are nothing but scams – preying on the vulnerable.
Flooding your inbox
One method that potential scammers are using is spamming your inbox. Victims are finding emails with subjects lines like “Help Victims of Sandy for a Chance to Win” – essentially offering up a gift or prize for donating money. These emails may even come from a friend’s email so you mistakenly think that it’s a legitimate request.
Others use dramatic photos (which may or may not be photoshopped) to demonstrate how people are losing their vehicles, homes and businesses. They offer a savvy investment opportunity for those who make a small deposit. One such email bears the subject line “Deposit Processing Open Today (Frankenstorm doesn’t stop us)”. Don’t be fooled. Your online donation is probably being deposited into the bank account of a con artist in Nigeria.
Donation requests to your phone
Some victims report receiving money requests to their mobile phones. The messages in question allow you to reply and donate money straight from your account. While some of these text messages may be legitimate, more will be nothing but the work of a con artist. Your best bet is to ignore them.
For those who suffered damage to their property, be wary of another disturbing trend. So-called contractors are making cold-calls, offering to repair roofs, structural damage, windows – you name it. While there are many legitimate contractors making cold-calls, there have also been reports of contractors that take a deposit and never even start the work. To avoid this, check out your contractor’s credentials before handing over any money.
Social Media Scams
Social media is yet another tool that fraudsters get creative with. Users of sites such as Twitter or Facebook may find tweets or posts from supposed victims of the storm, asking for donations. Some of these so-called victims are not even in the United States – much less a storm victim.
Avoid the Trap
Donating to the Red Cross and the storm victims has been made easy, with the help of Apple. Donations can be made through your iTunes account. The system is safe and legitimate – and you know that your donation is in the right hands. If you don’t have an iTunes account, it is very easy to set up. Otherwise, investigate the charity before handing over a check. Only donate to reputable charities. The easiest way to prove validity is if they can provide you with their Form 990 – which is a federal tax report on how it uses its funds.
Con artists look for any opportunity to rob you of your hard-earned money and the influx of fake charities that spring up after natural disasters are a perfect example. If you suspect that you may have already been conned by an opportunistic fraudster, report them to the police. They may not be able to get you your money back – nor search for a crook that likely operates out of a foreign country – but they may be able to prevent this from happening to other unsuspecting victims. Your only avenue for restitution would be to contact a Private Investigator to help track down the fraudster.