BBB: Look Out For Hurricane Harvey Scams

Aug 29, 2017

Credit bbb.org

Calls are going out to help those victimized by Hurricane Harvey. But the challenge is, which are legitimate and which are not? That’s where the Better Business Bureau can help.

More than 20 inches of rain has fallen over parts of Texas, with another 15-25 inches expected in the days to come. Help is pouring in, and neighbors have been helping neighbors.

That’s the best of it; then there’s the dark side.

“It’s so easy to go online and put something up that people will look at and think that it’s real; they may be giving their credit card information to somebody who’s going to steal their money,” says Tammy Ward with the BBB’s Northwest Florida chapter.

She says check their website, www.bbb.org, for tips on how to protect yourself and your pocketbook when it comes to disaster relief.

First up, verify if the charity is in the disaster area and has a clear plan to address immediate needs.

“There are some charities – or people that are saying they’re charities – that are going to be going into the area,” Ward says. “If they’re not already in the area, there a possibility that it could be weeks before outside agencies are able to come in. Some of them are already there, helping out in Texas right now.”

Another red flag could be if the charity is providing direct aid, or raising money for other groups. Ward says a middle man isn’t really needed in these situations.

“There’s a chance that if you use someone that’s going to be giving to someone else, there might be some kind of administrative fee, or any other kind of fee that might be associated with it,” Ward says. “So what you’re donating might now be 100% given to that disaster.”

The BBB echoes a number of other organizations – such as the American Red Cross – in discouraging shipments of clothing, food and other items to Texas at this time. Cash donations work best.

But Ward says they’re already seeing online crowdfunding appeals of a dubious nature.

“So many websites up there right now that we’ve been seeing,” said Ward. “Those are the ones you know – the American Red Cross – they have a website where you can security make a donation. Or you can stop by their office,” said Ward.

It’s also a good idea to be familiar with the phases of disaster relief: rescue, emergency relief, and recovery.

“Rescue is what they’re doing now; the emergency relief and recovery could be months and even years,” Ward said. “Even if you want to give right now, there’s also the opportunity to give later on down the road.”

If recovery takes a long time, as expected, be careful when using plastic to donate online. The BBB’s Tammy Ward says your account may end up being the gift that keeps on giving – unbeknownst to you.

“Make sure that you read everything on there; if there’s a check box – or they may or may not have a check box – if they don’t, there’s a possibility it will be a recurring monthly [charge] on your bill,” said Ward. “And you won’t know about it until you actually look at the bill.”

Suspected scams – related to Hurricane Harvey and elsewhere – can be reported to www.bbb.org/scamtracker, or to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.