Disaster scammers prey on seniors looking to help hurricane victims

“I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now and like clockwork, they will come out of the woodwork, the scammers.”


Steve Bernas, CEO of Better Business Bureau, is warning seniors and millennials–two ofthe most vulnerable groups to charity scammers–to keep an eye out for an inevitable and particularly appalling side-effect of large scale disaster: the disaster scammer.

These con artists capitalize on the good nature and generosity of their victims during times of crisis, stealing thousands of dollars from charitable people looking to help those affected by disasters. Whenever there is a community in crisis and a glut of media coverage and organizations reaching out for relief support, these thieves are sure to crawl out and trick donors into handing their money over.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, scammers successfully bilked millions from people intending their money to go to good use helping victims rebuild their lives.

These scammers are truly the worst of the worst, stealing not only from donors, but also from the families who desperately need relief after losing everything. Learning how to spot these scams isn’t just about protecting your money, but also keeping thieves from rerouting relief funds away from those who genuinely need help.

This report at Chicago’s WGN9 offers sound advice to seniors wishing to make a donation to groups working with the victims of Hurricane Harvey. And with “potentially catastrophic” category 5 Hurricane Irma crashing into the Caribbean islands on its path towards Florida, victims of Harvey may not be the only ones looking for support over the next few days.

The BBB warns seniors to do the following before making any donations to a disaster relief organization:

  • Check, double-check, and triple-check the URL of any group soliciting donations for disaster victims. One symbol, number, or letter out of place, and it could be an imposter site.
  • Do a quick internet search to check the reputation of any group you’re considering donating to. If someone has had a bad experience giving to the group, you’ll most likely find out about it.
  • Use sites like Give.Org or CharityNavigator.Org to verify the legitimacy of the group you’d like to donate to.
  • DO NOT WIRE MONEY TO A CHARITY ORGANIZATION. Scammers love to pressure their victims into wiring money because it’s essentially the same as handing someone cash–they receive your money almost instantly, make a withdrawal before you know you’ve been scammed, and they disappear. There is usually no way for the sender to reverse this payment, and since the scammer can collect your money from multiple locations, tracking these fraudsters is next to impossible. Don’t EVER wire money to a charity organization.
  • Don’t click donation links you see on Facebook or emails. These links are easily intercepted by scammers. Seek out and research a charitable organization on your own, and don’t respond to random solicitations in your inbox.

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