In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the incredible devastation wrought across the State of Texas, many Americans want to do what they can to help. Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous individuals who will seek to personally profit from the generosity of their neighbors.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that over $20 million was lost to charity scammers after Hurricane Katrina, and this disaster has the potential to cause just as much harm. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have both issued warnings about fake charity scams that are emerging, and are urging Americans to only reach out to recognized charitable organizations.

Scammers may send emails steering recipients to bogus websites that appear to be affiliated with legitimate charities. These sites may mimic the sites of legitimate charities, or claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities, in order to persuade people to provide personal information which can then be used to steal identities or financial resources.

To avoid making a “donation” to a scam artist, the IRS suggests the following:

  • Only donate to recognized charities. If you need to check whether or not a particular organization is a recognized charity, you can go to the IRS website at IRS.gov and use their search feature: Exempt Organizations Select Check.
  • Instead of checking on a link in an email you receive, access the website of the charity to which you want to donate.
  • Never, ever give out personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number, and passwords, to anyone who contacts you for a contribution. Instead, go to the charity’s website or call the charity’s phone number.
  • Never, ever give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card, so that you have documentation of the donation. And if you find that you have donated to a scam artist, you may be able to stop payment on a check or have your credit card company reverse the charge.

If you suspect an email scam, you can report this to the IRS by visiting their website, and Report Phishing.

Hurricane Harvey is an immense disaster, and a huge amount of resources will be necessary to help the citizens of Texas, and the other states affected, to rebuild. Hopefully, by following this information, those resources will be directed to those who need them.