The tragic events in Miami surrounding the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building have spurred many people to donate funds to those struck by the disaster. Unfortunately, reports have surfaced of donors being scammed through fraudulent sites.
If you want to donate, be mindful of the following to avoid being victimized: Fake charities can look real, with scammers choosing a name similar to a legit charity’s name, complete with an authentic-looking logo. Make sure you give by check or directly online to reputable, established organizations; don’t use a peer-to-peer app (like Venmo) to donate. To give online, go directly to the organization’s site by typing its address into your browser. Type carefully to avoid falling victim to typosquatting, a scam in which criminals take advantage of donors’ bad typing by setting up fraudulent, misspelled websites. Any personal and financial information transmitted through scam sites goes directly to the scammers.
Don’t click on links to any charitable giving sites in emails, as these emails could be spam or fraudulent.
Criminals can set up texting schemes to get you to give money and personal information via text message. Again, make your donation by check or online to reputable, established charities. If you must give via text, confirm the charity has authorized this by calling the charity or reviewing its website.
Consider using a reputable organization that can help you research a charity, such as Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. They offer reports and ratings about how charitable organizations spend donations and how they conduct business.
If the charity is local to Florida, check the Florida Department of Agriculture’s “Check-A-Charity” page on its website to ensure the charity is registered with the state of Florida.
Avoid falling victim to Twitter scams, which scam artists can orchestrate for attention or financial gain. A Twitter account set up to help victims by providing money to them if they re-tweet the message is a scam. Other Twitter scams could involve getting you to click on a link that takes you to what appears to be a Twitter sign-on page where you give them your password. This page could be fraudulent: any personal information transmitted here would go directly to the scammers.
Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are popular platforms for donations. While these sites have fraud protections, do some research, including into the recipient and the campaign’s purpose. Use common sense: if something looks off, don’t donate.
Under no circumstances should you give your bank account information to unsolicited callers or emailers, even if they appear to be from a legitimate charity.
If you believe that you are the victim or have knowledge of a charitable scam, consider filing a complaint with or reporting the fraud to law enforcement, including the FTC, FBI, and relevant state Attorney General’s Office.
The information contained in this column is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E