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Larry Blustein

Preying On

Hurricane Victims

By Larry Blustein

Knowing Who & Where To Send Your Donations To

The videos are heart-wrenching. People, like you and I, forced to leave their homes to flee from the flood waters that will consumer everything they own.

A time of crisis can bring out the best in people — a desire to help others in need — but it can also bring out the worst.

Unfortunately, natural disasters create opportunities for scammers to prey on generous people who are eager to donate to relief organizations and other charities.

In the hours after Hurricane Florence came ashore in the Carolinas, the internet was loaded with ways we can help donate to those victims of this “once in a lifetime” storm that pelted the coast with rain, winds and creating flooding that this area has never seen before.

As those fight for survival, and everyone was pooling together to help in anyway possible, the scammers were lurking behind their computers and smart phones to stir up a plan where they can use this horrific act of Mother Nature to their advantage.

“The low lives look forward to this so they can start their elaborate scams,” Elise Morton-Pressler of Fort Lauderdale said. “I have helped to raise money for 25 years for tragedies like this - and every single time you have a terrible occurrence like we are having here with Florence or last year with Hurricane Harvey, evil shows its head.”

Believe it or not, these nightmares have become a financial holiday for those who have no heart or conscience. The look to rip you off any way they can.

Scams tied to natural disasters or emergencies have become so prevalent that legislators enacted the Emergency Disaster Assistance Fraud Penalty Enhancement Act of 2007 - and have used it every year since to go after those who choose to use this for their own financial gain.

“It makes you sick to think that all the suffering people go through in disasters like Florence is ignored by people who could care less,” Morton-Pressler said. “But it is a way of life, and something that we always have to guard against.”

Three years after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the U.S. Gulf Coast, the FBI announced charges against 907 individuals in 43 federal judicial districts across the country for taking advantage of victim assistance and rebuilding efforts.

“It’s great to give to those who need it during tough times,” Mary Pappas of Hollywood pointed out. “Last year, after Hurricanes Iris and Maria affected so many, my husband and I were very eager to send a check. But after researching who to forward it to, we were warned about the scams.”

When it comes to being there after any disaster, the Red Cross has long been a name to trust.

With Florence staying nearly stationary for two days, more than 20,000 people sought refuge in more than 200 Red Cross and community shelters across the impacted region.

This includes at least 17,000 people in 139 shelters in North Carolina, and 3,000 people in 59 shelters in South Carolina. Nearly 100 people stayed in 13 shelters in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland and Kentucky.
Working with partners, the Red Cross has served more than 129,000 meals and snacks across eight states.

About 2,330 Red Cross disaster workers from all over the country have been mobilized to help shelter, feed and support people affected by Florence.

More than 130 emergency response vehicles have been mobilized, as well as more than 70 trailers of equipment and supplies, including ready-to-eat meals and enough cots and blankets for more than 100,000 people.

For opportunistic scammers, the internet is a perfect accomplice. Here's how to ensure the charities to which you hope to donate are authentic.

• Be wary of social media and email links. Social media can disseminate information quickly, but there’s no guarantee that the information has been vetted. Instead of clicking on a link through your social media feed, go directly to the charity’s authorized website. If you receive an email from an unknown charity, avoid clicking on the donation link.

• Watch out for copy cats. Many scammers cleverly target donors using names that sound official or confusingly similar to well-known charities.

After Hurricane Harvey, the American Red Cross asked the FBI to investigate fake websites that deceptively mimicked Red Cross pleas for donations.

Don’t provide more information than needed. Reputable organizations may ask for your name, address, email address and credit card number — but not your social security number or a copy of your Driver’s License. Providing unnecessary personal information may open you up to identity theft.

• Beware of requests to send money overseas. Some scammers operate overseas and ask you to submit payment to a foreign bank. This is highly suspicious, especially for a U.S. disaster.

• Consult a charity ratings website. Sites like CharityNavigator, GuideStar and the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance provide news updates, donation advice and ratings based on different criteria.

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